Part 10 out of 12
"As surely as Savannah."
"Savannah! You think that? We are more hopeful at Petersburg."
"Hopeful or not, colonel, I am certain of what I say. Remember my
prediction when it is fulfilled. The Yankees are a theatrical people.
They take Vicksburg, and win Gettysburg, on their 'great national
anniversary;' and now they are going to present themselves with a
handsome 'Christmas gift'--that is the city of Savannah."
He spoke with evident difficulty, and his laboring voice, like his
haggard cheeks, showed that he had been ill since I last saw him.
"Savannah captured, or surrendered!" I said, with knit brows. "What
will be the result of that?"
"Ruin," was the curt response.
"Not the loss of a mere town?"
"No; the place itself is nothing. For Sherman to take it will not
benefit him much; but it will prove to the country, and the President,
that he is irresistible. Then they will _hack_; and you will see the
beginning of the end."
"That is a gloomy view enough."
"Yes--every thing is gloomy now. The devil of high-headed obstinacy and
incompetence rules affairs. I do not croak in the _Examiner_ newspaper.
But we are going straight to the devil."
As he uttered these words, he placed his hand upon his breast, and
closed his eyes, as though he were going to faint.
"What is the matter?" I exclaimed, rising abruptly, and approaching
"Nothing!" he replied, in a weak voice; "don't disturb yourself about
me. These fits of faintness come on, now and then, in consequence of an
attack of pneumonia which I had lately. Sit down, colonel. You must
really pardon me for saying it, but you make me nervous."
There was nothing in the tone of this singular address to take offence
at,--the voice of the speaker was perfectly courteous,--and I resumed
"We were talking about Sherman," he said. "They call him Gog, Magog,
anti-Christ, I know not what, in the clerical circles of this city!"
His lip curled as he spoke.
"One reverend divine publicly declared the other day, that 'God had put
a hook in Sherman's nose, and was leading him to his destruction!' I
don't think it looks much like it!"
The speaker was stopped by a fit of coughing, and when it had subsided,
leaned back, faint and exhausted, in his chair.
"The fact is--Sherman--" he said, with difficulty, "seems to have--the
hook in--_our_ nose!"
There was something grim and lugubrious in the smile which accompanied
the painfully uttered words. A long silence followed them, which was
broken by neither of us. At last I raised my head, and said:--
"I find you less hopeful than last summer. At that time you were in
good spirits, and the tone of the _Examiner_ was buoyant."
"It is hopeful still," he replied, "but by an effort--from a sentiment
of duty. I often write far more cheerfully than I feel, colonel."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
"Your views have changed, I perceive--but you change with the whole
"Yes. A whole century has passed since last August, when you visited me
here. One by one, we have lost all that the country could depend
on--hope goes last. For myself, I began to doubt when Jackson fell at
Chancellorsville, and I have been doubting, more or less, ever since.
He was _a dominant man_, colonel, fit, _if any thing happened_, to rise
to the head of affairs. Oh! for an hour of Jackson! Oh! for a day of
our dead Dundee!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
[Footnote 2: His words.]
The face of the speaker glowed, and I shall never forget the flash of
his dark eye, as he uttered the words, "if any thing happened." There
was a whole volume of menace to President Davis in those words.
"But this is useless!" he went on; "Jackson is dead, and there is none
to take his place. So, without leaders, with every sort of
incompetence, with obstinacy and stupidity directing the public
councils, and shaping the acts of the administration, we are gliding
straight into the gulf of destruction."
I could make no reply. The words of this singular man and profound
thinker, affected me dolefully.
"Yes, colonel," he went on, "the three or four months which have passed
since your last visit, have cleared away all mists from _my_ eyes at
least, and put an end to all my dreams--among others, to that project
which I spoke of--the purchase and restoration of the family estate of
Stafford. It will never be restored by me. Like Randolph, I am the last
of my line."
And with eyes full of a profound melancholy, the speaker gazed into the
"I am passing away with the country," he added. "The cause is going to
fail. I give it three months to end in, and have sent for a prominent
senator, who may be able to do something. I intend to say to him, 'The
time has come to make the best terms possible with the enemy,' and I
shall place the columns of the _Examiner_ newspaper at his disposal to
advocate that policy."
[Footnote 1: This, I learned afterward, from the Hon. Mr. -----, was
duly done by Mr. Daniel. But it was too late.]
"Is it possible!" I said. "Frankly, I do not think things are so
"You are a soldier, and hopeful, colonel. The smoke blinds you."
"And yet General Lee is said to repudiate negotiations with scorn. He
is said to have lately replied to a gentleman who advised them, 'For
myself, I intend to die sword in hand!'"
"General Lee is a soldier--and you know what the song says: 'A
soldier's business, boys, is to die!'"
I could find no reply to the grim words.
"I tell you the cause is lost, colonel!" with feverish energy, "lost
irremediably, at this moment while we are speaking! It is lost from
causes which are enough to make the devil laugh, but it is lost all the
same! When the day of surrender, and Yankee domination comes--when the
gentlemen of the South are placed under the heel of negroes and
Yankees--I, for one, wish to die. Happy is the man who shall have
gotten into the grave before that day! Blessed will be the woman who
has never given suck! Yes, the best thing for me is to
die-- and I am going to do so. I shall not see that _Dies Irae_! I
shall be in my grave!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
[Footnote 2: His words.]
[Footnote 3: His words.]
And breathing heavily, the journalist again leaned back in his chair,
as though about to faint.
An hour afterward, I terminated my visit, and went out, oppressed and
This singular man had made a reluctant convert of me to his own dark
views. The cloud which wrapped him, now darkened me--from the black
future I saw the lightnings dart already.
His predictions were destined to have a very remarkable fulfilment.
On the 21st of December, a few days after our interview, Sherman
telegraphed to Lincoln:--
"I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with
one hundred and fifty guns, and plenty of ammunition, and also about
twenty-five thousand bales of cotton."
In January, Wilmington fell.
Toward the end of the same month, John M. Daniel was a second time
seized with pneumonia, and took to his bed, from which he was never
again to rise. He would see no one but his physician and a few chosen
friends. All other persons were persistently denied admittance to his
chamber. Lingering throughout the remainder of the winter, as spring
approached, life seemed gradually leaving him. Day by day his pulse
grew weaker. You would have said that this man was slowly dying with
the cause for which he had fought; that as the life-blood oozed, drop
by drop, from the bleeding bosom of the Southern Confederacy, the last
pulses of John M. Daniel kept time to the pattering drops.
One morning, at the end of March, his physician came to see him, and
found him lying on the outer edge of his bed. Not wishing to disturb
him, the physician went to the window to mix a stimulant. All at once a
noise attracted his attention, and he turned round. The dying man had,
by a great effort, turned completely over, and lay on his back in the
middle of the bed, with his eyes closed, and his arms folded on his
breast, as though he were praying.
When the physician came to his bedside, he was dead.
It was four days before the fall of Petersburg and Richmond; and he was
buried in Hollywood, just in time to escape the tramp of Federal feet
around his coffin.
His prophecy and wish were thus fulfilled.
[Footnote 1: These details are strictly accurate.]
When I left Mr. John M. Daniel it was past ten at night, and designing
to set out early in the morning for Petersburg, I bent my steps toward
The night was not however to pass without adventures of another
I was going along Governor Street, picking my way by the light of the
few gas-lamps set far apart and burning dimly, when all at once I heard
a cry in front, succeeded by the noise of a scuffle, and then by a
Hastening forward I reached the spot, which was not far from the City
Hall; and a glance told me all.
A wayfarer had been garroted; that is to say, suddenly attacked while
passing along, by one of the night-birds who then infested the streets
after dark; seized from behind; throttled, and thrown violently to the
ground--the object of the assailant being robbery.
When I reached the spot the robber was still struggling with his
victim, who, stretched beneath him on the ground, uttered frightful
cries. One hand of the garroter was on his throat, the other was busily
rifling his pockets.
I came up just in time to prevent a murder, but not to disappoint the
robber. As I appeared he hastily rose, releasing the throat of the
unfortunate citizen. I saw a watch gleam in his hand; he bestowed a
violent kick on his prostrate victim;--then he disappeared running, and
was in an instant lost in the darkness.
I saw that pursuit would be useless; and nobody ever thought, at that
period, of attempting to summon the police. I turned to assist the
victim, who all at once rose from the ground, uttering groans and
The lamp-light shone upon his face. It was the worthy Mr. Blocque--Mr.
Blocque, emitting howls of anguish! Mr. Blocque, shaking his clenched
hands, and maligning all created things! Mr. Blocque, devoting, with
loud curses and imprecations, the assembled wisdom of the "city
fathers," and the entire police force of the Confederate capital, to
the infernal deities!
"I am robbed--murdered!" screamed the little Jewish-looking personage,
in a shrill falsetto which resembled the shriek of a furious old woman,
"robbed! rifled!--stripped of every thing!--garroted!--my money
taken!--I had ten thousand dollars in gold and greenbacks on my
person!--not a Confederate note in the whole pack--not one! gold and
greenbacks!--two watches!---I am ruined! I will expose the police! I
was going to my house like a quiet citizen! I was harming nobody! and I
am to be set on and robbed of my honest earnings by a highwayman
--choked, strangled, knocked down, my pockets picked, my money taken
--and this in the capital of the Confederacy, under the nose of the
It was a shrill squeak which I heard--something unutterably ludicrous.
I could scarce forbear laughing, as I looked at the little
blockade-runner, with disordered hair, dirty face, torn clothes, and
bleeding nose, uttering curses, and moaning in agony over the loss of
his "honest earnings!"
I consoled him in the best manner I could, and asked him if he had lost
every thing. That question seemed to arouse him. He felt hastily in his
pockets,--and then at the result my eyes opened wide. Thrusting his
hand into a secret pocket, he drew forth an enormous roll of
greenbacks, and I could see the figures "100" on each of the notes as
he ran over them. That bundle alone must have contained several
thousands of dollars. But the worthy Mr. Blocque did not seem in the
"He got _the other bundle_!" shrieked the victim, still in his wild
falsetto; "it was ten thousand dollars--I had just received it this
evening--I am robbed!--they are going to murder me!--Where is the
I laid my hand upon his arm.
"You have lost a very considerable sum," I said, "but--you may lose
And I pointed to the roll of bank notes in his hand, with a significant
glance. At these words he started.
"You are right, colonel!" he said, hastily; "I may be attacked again! I
may be robbed of all--they may finish me! I will get home as quickly as
I can! Thank you, colonel! you have saved me from robbery and murder!
Come and see me, colonel. Come and dine with me, my dear sir! At five,
And Mr. Blocque commenced running wildly toward a place of safety.
In a moment he had disappeared, and I found myself alone--laughing
THE CLOAKED WOMAN.
"Well," I said, as I walked on, "this is a charming adventure and
conveys a tolerably good idea of the city of Richmond, after dark, in
the year 1864. Our friend Blocque is garroted, and robbed of his
'honest earnings,' at one fell swoop by a footpad! The worthy citizen
is waylaid; his pockets rifled; his life desolated. All the proceeds of
a life of virtuous industry have disappeared. Terrible condition of
things!--awful times when a good citizen can not go home to his modest
supper of canvas-backs and champagne, without being robbed by----his
Indulging in these reflections, not unaccompanied with smiles, I
continued my way, with little fear, myself, of pickpockets or
garroters. Those gentry were intelligent. They were never known to
attack people with gray coats--they knew better! They attacked the
black coats, in the pockets of which they suspected the presence of
greenbacks and valuable papers; never the gray coats, where they would
find only a frayed "leave of absence" for their pains!
I thus banished the whole affair from my mind; but it had aroused and
excited me. I did not feel at all sleepy; and finding, by a glance at
my watch beneath a lamp, that it was only half past ten, I resolved to
go and ask after the health of my friend, Mr. X-----, whose house was
only a square or two off.
This resolution I proceeded at once to carry out. A short walk brought
me to the house, half buried in its shrubbery; but as I approached I
saw a carriage was standing before the house.
Should I make my visit then, or postpone it? Mr. X----- evidently had
company. Or had the carriage brought a visitor to some other member of
the household? Mr. X----- was only a boarder, and I might be mistaken
in supposing that _he_ was engaged at the moment.
As these thoughts passed through my mind, I approached the gate in the
iron railing. The carriage was half hidden by the shadow of the elms,
which grew in a row along the sidewalk. On the box sat a motionless
figure. The vehicle and driver were as still and silent as if carved
out of ebony.
"Decidedly I will discover," I said, and opening the gate I turned into
the winding path through the shrubbery, which led toward the rear of
the house; that is to say, toward the private entrance to the room of
Suddenly, as I passed through the shadowy shrubs, I felt a hand on my
shoulder. I started back, and unconsciously felt for some weapon.
"Don't shoot me, colonel!" said a voice in the darkness, "I am a
I recognized the voice of Nighthawk.
"Good heavens! my dear Nighthawk," I said, drawing a long breath of
relief, "you are enough to make Alonzo the Brave, himself, tremble? You
turn up everywhere, and especially in the dark! What are you doing
"I am watching, colonel," said Nighthawk, with benignant sweetness.
"Waiting for whom?"
"For a lady with whom you have the honor of being acquainted."
"That one you last saw in the lonely house near Monk's Neck. Hush! here
His voice had sunk to a whisper, and he drew me into the shrubbery, as
a long bar of light, issuing from the door in the rear of the house,
ran out into the night.
"I am going to follow her," whispered Nighthawk, placing his lips close
to my ear, "she is at her devil's work here in Richmond, as Swartz
Suddenly he was silent; a light step was heard. A form approached us,
passed by. I could see that it was a woman, wrapped from head to foot
in a gray cloak.
She passed so close to us that the skirt of her cloak nearly brushed
our persons, and disappeared toward the gate. The iron latch was heard
to click, the door of the carriage to open and close, and then the
vehicle began to move.
Nighthawk took two quick steps in the direction of the gate.
"I am going to follow the carriage, colonel," he whispered. "I have
been waiting here to do so. I will tell you more another time. Give my
respects to General Mohun, and tell him I am on his business!"
With which words Nighthawk glided into the darkness--passed through the
gate without sound from the latch--and running noiselessly, disappeared
on the track of the carriage.
I gazed after him for a moment, said to myself, "well this night is to
be full of incident!"--and going straight to the door in the rear of
the house, passed through it, went to the door of Mr. X-----'s room,
"Come in," said the voice of that gentleman; and opening the door I
THE HEART OF A STATESMAN.
Mr. X----- was seated in front of an excellent coal fire, in his great
armchair, near a table covered with papers, and between his lips was
the eternal cigar.
At sight of me he rose courteously--for he never omitted any form of
politeness--and cordially shook my hand.
"I am glad to see you, colonel," he said. "Just from the army? Have a
And he extended toward me an elegant cigar-case full of Havanas, which
he took from the table. I declined, informing him that I had been
smoking all the evening in the sanctum of the editor of the _Examiner_.
"Ah! you have been to see Daniel," said Mr. X-----. "He is a very
remarkable man. I do not approve of the course of his paper, and he has
attacked me very bitterly on more than one occasion. But I bear no
grudge against him. He is honest in his opinions. I admire the pluck of
the man, and the splendid pith of his writings."
"My views accord with your own," I replied.
"Everybody thinks with us," said Mr. X-----, puffing at his cigar. "It
is only ignoramuses who deny this man's courage and ability. I have
never done injustice to Daniel--and I call that 'liberal' in myself,
colonel! He has flayed me alive on three or four occasions, and it is
not his fault that I am enjoying this excellent Havana."
"I read the attacks," I said.
"Were they not fearful?" said Mr. X-----, smiling tranquilly. "After
reading them, I regarded myself as a moral and political monster!"
I could not forbear from laughing as the portly statesman uttered the
words. He seemed to derive a species of careless enjoyment from the
recollection of his "flayings."
"I expect to talk over these little affairs with Daniel hereafter," he
said. "We shall have a great deal of time on our hands--in Canada."
And Mr. X----- smiled, and went on smoking. It was the second time he
had uttered that phrase--"in Canada."
I laughed now, and said:--
"You continue to regard Toronto, or Montreal, or Quebec, as your future
"Yes; I think I prefer Quebec. The view from Cape Diamond is superb;
and there is something English and un-American in the whole place,
which I like. The Plains of Abraham bring back the history of the
past,--which is more agreeable to me at least than the history of the
"You adhere more than ever, I see, to your opinion that we are going to
"It is not an opinion, my dear colonel, but a certainty."
My head sank. In the army I had been hopeful. When I came to Richmond,
those high intelligences, John M. Daniel and Mr. X-----, did not even
attempt to conceal their gloomy views.
"I see you think me a croaker," said Mr. X-----, tranquilly smoking,
"and doubtless say to yourself, colonel, that I am injudicious in thus
discouraging a soldier, who is fighting for this cause. A year ago I
would not have spoken to you thus, for a year ago there was still some
hope. Now, to discourage you--if thinking men, fighting for a
principle, like yourself, _could_ be discouraged--would result in no
injury: for the cause is lost. On the contrary, as the friend of that
most excellent gentleman, your father, I regard it as a sort of duty to
speak thus--to say to you 'Don't throw away your life for nothing. Do
your duty, but do no more than your duty, for we are doomed.'"
I could find no reply to these gloomy words.
"The case is past praying for," said Mr. X----- composedly, "the whole
fabric of the Confederacy at this moment is a mere shell. It is going
to crumble in the spring, and another flag will float over the Virginia
capitol yonder--what you soldiers call 'The Gridiron.' The country is
tired. The administration is unpopular, and the departments are
mismanaged. I am candid, you see. The days of the Confederacy are
numbered, and worse than all, nobody knows it. We ought to negotiate
for the best terms, but the man who advises that, will be hissed at and
called a 'coward.' It is an invidious thing to do. It is much grander
to shout 'Death sooner than surrender!' I shouted that lustily as long
as there was any hope--now, I think it my duty as a statesman, and
public functionary, to say, 'There are worse things than death--let us
try and avoid them by making terms.' I say that to you--I do not say so
on the streets--the people would tear me to pieces, and with their
sources of information they would be right in doing so."
"Is it possible that all is lost? That negotiations are our only hope?"
"Yes; and confidentially speaking--this is a State secret, my dear
colonel--these will soon be made."
"You think that impossible, but it is the impossible which invariably
takes place in this world. We are going to send commissioners to meet
Mr. Lincoln in Hampton Roads--and it will be useless."
"We are going to demand such terms as he will not agree to. The
commissioners will return. The war will continue to its legitimate
military end, which I fix about the last days of March."
"Good heaven! so soon!"
"In three months?"
Mr. X----- nodded.
"General Lee may lengthen the term a little by his skill and courage,
but it is not in _his_ power, even, to resist beyond the month of
"The army of Northern Virginia, driven by the enemy!"
"Forced to surrender, or annihilated; and in Virginia--it will never
join Johnston. Its numbers are too small to cut a path through the
enemy. Grant will be at the Southside road before the first of April;
Lee will evacuate his lines, which he will be compelled to hold to the
last moment; he will retreat; be intercepted; be hunted down toward
Lynchburg, and either surrender, or be butchered. Cheerful, isn't it?"
"It is frightful!"
"Yes, Lee's men are starving now. The country is tired of the war, and
disgusted with the manner in which we manage things. No recruits are
arriving. The troops are not _deserting_, but they are leaving the army
without permission, to succor their starving families. Lee's last hours
are approaching, and we are playing the comedy here in Richmond with an
immense appearance of reality; dancing, and fiddling, and laughing on
the surface of the volcano. I play my part among the rest. I risk my
head more even, perhaps, than the military leaders. I take a
philosophic view, however, of the present and future. If I am not hung,
I will go to Canada; meanwhile, I smoke my cigar, colonel."
And Mr. X----- lazily threw away his stump, and lit a fresh Havana. It
is impossible to imagine any thing more careless than his attitude.
This man was either very brave or frightfully apathetic.
Five minutes afterward, I knew that any thing but apathy possessed him.
All at once he rose in his chair, and his eyes were fixed upon me with
a glance so piercing and melancholy, that they dwell still in my
memory, and will always dwell there.
"I said we were playing a comedy here in Richmond, colonel," he said,
in tones so deep and solemn that they made me start; "I am playing my
part with the rest; I play it in public, and even in private, as before
you to-night. I sit here, indolently smoking and uttering my jests and
platitudes, and, at the moment that I am speaking, my heart is
breaking! I am a Virginian--I love this soil more than all the rest of
the world--not a foot but is dear and sacred, and a vulgar horde are
about to trample it under foot, and enslave its people. Every pulse of
my being throbs with agony at the thought! I can not sleep. I have lost
all taste for food. One thought alone haunts me--that the land of
Washington, Jefferson, Mason, Henry, and Randolph, is to become the
helpless prey of the scum of Europe and the North! My family has lived
here for more than two hundred years. I have been, and am to-day, proud
beyond words, of my birthright! I am a Virginian! a Virginian of
Virginians! I have for forty years had no thought but the honor of
Virginia. I have fought for her, and her only, in the senate and
cabinet of the old government at Washington. I have dedicated all my
powers to her--shrunk from nothing in my path--given my days and nights
for years, and was willing to pour out my blood for Virginia; and now
she is about to be trampled upon, her great statues hurled down, her
escutcheon blotted, her altars overturned! And I, who have had no
thought but her honor and glory, am to be driven, at the end of a long
career, to a foreign land! I am to crouch yonder in Canada, with my
bursting brow in my two hands--and every newspaper is to tell me 'the
negro and the bayonet rule Virginia!' Can you wonder, then, that I am
gloomy--that despair lies under all this jesting? _You_ are happy. You
go yonder, where a bullet may end you. Would to God that I had entered
the army, old as I am, and that at least I could hope for a death of
honor, in arms for Virginia!"
The statesman leaned back in his great chair, and was silent. At the
same moment a tap was heard at the door; it opened noiselessly, and
Nighthawk glided into the apartment.
Under his cloak I saw the gray uniform of a Confederate soldier; in his
hand he carried a letter.
Nighthawk saluted Mr. X----- and myself with benignant respect. His
quick eye, however, had caught the gloomy and agitated expression of
the statesman's countenance, and he was silent.
"Well," said Mr. X-----, raising his head, with a deep sigh. Then
passing his hand over his face, he seemed to brush away all emotion.
When he again looked up, his face was as calm and unmoved as at the
commencement of our interview.
"You see I begin a new scene in this comedy," he said to me in a low
And turning to Nighthawk, he said:--
"Well, you followed that agreeable person?"
"Yes, sir," said Nighthawk, with great respect.
"She turned out to be the character you supposed? Speak before Colonel
"I never had any doubt of her character, sir," he said. "You will
remember that she called on you a week ago, announcing that she was a
spy, who had lately visited the Federal lines and Washington. You
described her to me, and informed me that you had given her another
appointment for to-night; when I assured you that I knew her; she was
an enemy, who had come as a spy upon _us_; and you directed me to be
here to-night, and follow her, after your interview."
"Well," said Mr. X-----, quietly, "you followed her!"
"Yes, sir. On leaving you, after making her pretended report of affairs
in Washington, she got into her carriage, and the driver started
rapidly, going up Capitol and Grace streets. I followed on foot, and
had to run--but I am used to that, sir. The carriage stopped at a house
in the upper part of the city--a Mr. Blocque's; the lady got out,
telling the driver to wait, and went into the house, where she staid
for about half an hour. She then came out--I was in the shadow of a
tree, not ten yards from the spot, and as she got into the carriage, I
could see that she held in her hand a letter. As the driver closed the
door, she said, 'Take me to the flag-of-truce bureau, on Ninth Street,
next door to the war office.' The driver mounted his box, and set
off--and crossing the street, I commenced running to get a-head. In
this I succeeded, and reached the bureau five minutes before the
"Well, sir, I hastened up stairs, and went into the bureau, where three
or four clerks were examining the letters left to be sent by the
flag-of-truce boat to-morrow. They were laughing and jesting as they
read aloud the odd letters from the Libby and other prisons--some of
which, I assure you, were very amusing, sir--when the lady's footsteps
were heard upon the stairs, and she came in, smiling.
"I had turned my back, having given some excuse for my presence to one
of the clerks, who is an acquaintance. Thus the lady, who knows me,
could not see my face; but I could, by looking out of the corners of my
eyes, see _her_. She came in, in her rich gray cloak, smiling on the
clerks, and handing an open letter to one of them, said:--"'Will you
oblige me by sending that to my sister in New York, by the
flag-of-truce boat, to-morrow, sir?'
"'If there is nothing contraband in it, madam,' said the clerk.
"'Oh!' she replied, with a laugh, 'it is only on family matters. My
sister is a Southerner, and so am I, sir. You can read the letter; it
is not very dangerous!'
"And she smiled so sweetly that the clerk was almost ashamed to read
the letter. He, however, glanced his eye over it, and evidently found
nothing wrong in it. While he was doing so, the lady walked toward the
mail-bags in which the clerks had been placing such letters as they
found unobjectionable, the others being marked, 'Condemned,' and thrown
into a basket. As she passed near one of the bags, I saw the lady, whom
I was closely watching, flirt her cloak, as though by accident, across
the mouth of one of the mail-bags, and at the same instant her hand
stole down and dropped a letter into the bag. As she did so, the clerk,
who had finished reading _the other letter_, bowed, and said:---
"'There is nothing objectionable in this, madam, and it will be sent,
"'I was sure of that, sir,' replied the lady, with a smile. 'I am very
much obliged. Good evening, sir!'
"And she sailed out, all the clerks politely rising as she did so.
"No sooner had the door closed than I darted upon the bag in which I
had seen her drop the letter. The clerks wished to stop me, but I
informed them of what I had seen. If they doubted, they could see for
themselves that the letter, which I had easily found, was not sealed
with the seal of the bureau. They looked at it, and at once
acknowledged their error.
"'Arrest her!' exclaimed one of them, suddenly. The rapid rolling of a
carriage came like an echo to his words.
"'It is useless, gentlemen,' I said. 'I know where to find the lady,
and will look to the whole affair. You know I am in the secret service,
and will be personally responsible for every thing. I will take this
letter to the official who directed me to watch the lady who brought
"To this, no objection was made, as I am known at the office. I came
away; returned as quickly as possible; and here is the letter, sir."
With which words Nighthawk drew his hand from under his cloak, and
presented the letter to Mr. X-----, who had listened in silence to his
BY FLAG-OF-TRUCE BOAT.
MR. X----- took the letter, broke the seal, and ran his eye over the
"Decidedly, that woman is a skilful person," he said; "she fishes in
troubled waters with the coolness of an experienced hand."
And presenting the letter to me, the statesman said:--
"Would you like to see a specimen of the sort of documents which go on
file in the departments, colonel?"
I took the letter, and read the following words:--
"RICHMOND, 18 _Dec'r_, 1864.
"Tell, _you know who_, that I have just seen the honorable
Mr.-----" (here the writer gave the real name and official position of
Mr. X-----), "and have had a long conversation with him. He is fully
convinced that I am a good Confederate, and spoke without reserve of
matters the most private. He is in high spirits, and looks on the rebel
cause as certain to succeed. I never saw one more blinded to the real
state of things. Richmond is full of misery, and the people seem in
despair, but this high official, who represents the whole government,
is evidently certain of Lee's success. I found him in a garrulous mood,
and he did not conceal his views. The government has just received
heavy supplies from the south, by the Danville railroad--others are
coming--the whole country in rear of Sherman is rising--and Lee, he
stated, would soon be re-enforced by between fifty and seventy-five
thousand men. What was more important still, was a dispatch, which he
read me, from England. This startled me. There seems no doubt that
England is about to recognize the Confederacy. When he had finished
reading this dispatch, on the back of which I could see the English
postmark, he said to me--these are his words:--'You see, things were
never brighter; it is only a question of time; and by holding out a
little longer, we shall compel the enemy to retire and give up the
contest. With the re-enforcements coming, Lee will have about one
hundred thousand men. With that force, he will be able to repulse all
General Grant's assaults. Things look dark at this moment, but the
cause was never more hopeful.'
"He seemed insane, but I give you his words. It is certain that these
are the views of the government, and that our authorities are much
mistaken in supposing the Confederacy at its last gasp. It is
impossible that the honorable Mr.----- was attempting to deceive me;
because I carried him a letter from -----" (here the writer gave the
name of a prominent official of the Confederate Government, which I
suppress) "who vouched for me, and declared that I was passionately
Southern in my sympathies.
"I shall see the honorable Mr.----- in a day or two again. In the mean
while, I am staying, _incognita_, at the house of our friend, Mr.
Blocque, who has afforded me every facility in return for the
_safeguard_ I brought him, to protect his property when we occupy
Richmond. The city is in a terrible state. Mr. Blocque has just come
in, and informs me that he has been garroted near the capitol, and
robbed of ten thousand dollars in good money. He is in despair.
"As soon as I have finished some important private business, which
keeps me in the Confederate lines, I shall be with ----- again. Tell
him to be in good spirits. This city has still a great deal of money
hoarded in garrets--and we shall soon be here. Then we can retire on a
competence--and when _Fonthill_ is confiscated, we will purchase it,
and live in affluence.
I looked at the back of the letter. It was directed to a lady in
Suffolk. From the letter, my glance passed to the face of Mr. X-----.
He was smiling grimly.
"A valuable document," he said, "which madam will doubtless duplicate
before very long, with additional particulars. I make you a present of
it, colonel, as a memorial of the war."
I thanked him, and placed the letter in my pocket. To-day I copy it,
word for word.
Mr. X----- reflected a moment; then he said to Nighthawk:--
"Arrest this woman; I am tired of her. I have no time to waste upon
such persons, however charming."
Nighthawk looked greatly delighted.
"I was going to beg that order of you, sir," he said, "as the 'private
business' alluded to in the letter, concerns a friend of mine,
"Ah! well, here is the order."
And taking a pen, Mr. X----- scrawled two lines, which he handed to
Nighthawk. A glow of satisfaction came to that worthy's face, and
taking the paper, he carefully placed it in his pocket.
As he did so, the bell in the capitol square struck midnight, and I
rose to take my departure.
"Come and see me soon again, colonel," said Mr. X-----, going to the
door with me. He had made a sign to Nighthawk, who rose to go out with
me, that he wished him to remain.
"What I have said to you, to-night," continued the statesman, gravely,
"may have been injudicious, colonel. I am not certain of that--but I am
quite sure that to have it repeated at this time would be inconvenient.
Be discreet, therefore, my dear friend--after the war, tell or write
what you fancy; and I should rather have my present views known then,
than not known. They are those neither of a time-server, a faint heart,
or a fool. I stand like the Roman sentinel at the gate of Herculaneum,
awaiting the lava flood that will bury me. I see it coming--I hear the
roar--I know destruction is rushing on me--but I am a sentinel on post;
I stand where I have been posted; it is God and my conscience that have
placed me on duty here. I will stay, whatever comes, until I am
relieved by the same authority which posted me." And with the bow of a
nobleman, the gray-haired statesman bade me farewell.
I returned to my lodgings, buried in thought, pondering deeply on the
strange scenes of this night of December.
On the next morning I set out, and rejoined the army at Petersburg.
I, too, was a sentinel on post, like the statesman. And I determined to
remain on duty to the last.
TO AND FRO IN THE SPRING OF '65.
The months of January and February, 1865, dragged on, sombre and
Two or three expeditions which I made during that woeful period, gave
me a good idea of the condition of the country.
In September, 1864, I had traversed Virginia from Petersburg to
Winchester, and had found the people--especially those of the lower
Shenandoah Valley--still hopeful, brave, resolved to resist to the
In January and February, 1865, my official duties carried me to the
region around Staunton; to the mountains west of Lynchburg; and to the
North Carolina border, south of Petersburg. All had changed. Everywhere
I found the people looking blank, hopeless, and utterly discouraged.
The shadow of the approaching woe seemed to have already fallen upon
The army was as "game" as ever--even Early's little handful, soon to be
struck and dispersed by General Sheridan's ten thousand cavalry.
Everywhere, the soldiers laughed in the face of death. Each seemed to
feel, as did the old statesman with whom I had conversed on that night
at Richmond, that he was a sentinel on post, and must stand there to
the last. The lava might engulf him, but he was "posted," and must
stand until relieved, by his commanding officer or death. It was the
"poor private," in his ragged jacket and old shoes, as well as the
officer in his braided coat, who felt thus. For those private soldiers
of the army of Northern Virginia were gentlemen. _Noblesse oblige_ was
their motto; and they meant to die, musket in hand!
Oh, soldiers of the army, who carried those muskets in a hundred
battles!--who fought with them from Manassas, in 1861, to Appomattox,
in 1865--you are the real heroes of the mighty struggle, and one
comrade salutes you now, as he looked at you with admiration in old
days! What I saw in those journeys was dreary enough; but however black
may be the war-cloud, there is always the gleam of sunlight somewhere!
We laughed now and then, reader, even in the winter of 1864-'5!
I laugh still, as I think of the brave cannoneers of the horse
artillery near Staunton--and of the fearless Breathed, their commander,
jesting and playing with his young bull-dog, whom he had called
"Stuart" for his courage. I hear the good old songs, all about "Ashby,"
and the "Palmetto Tree," and the "Bonnie Blue Flag"--songs sung with
joyous voices in that dreary winter, as in other days, when the star of
hope shone more brightly, and the future was more promising.
At Lynchburg, where I encountered a number of old friends, songs still
sweeter saluted me--from the lips of my dear companions, Major Gray and
Captain Woodie. How we laughed and sang, on that winter night, at
Lynchburg! Do you chant your sweet "Nora McShane" still, Gray? And you,
Woodie, do you sing in your beautiful and touching tenor
"The heart bowed down by deep despair.
To weakest hopes will cling?"
Across the years comes once more that magical strain; again I hear your
voice, filled with the very soul of sadness, tell how
"Memory is the only friend
That grief can call its own!"
That seemed strangely applicable to the situation at the time. The
memory of our great victories was all that was left to us; and I
thought that it was the spirit of grief itself that was singing. Again
I hear the notes--but "Nora McShane" breaks in--"Nora McShane," the
most exquisite of all Gray's songs. Then he winds up with uproarious
praise of the "Bully Lager Beer!"--and the long hours of night flit
away on the wings of laughter, as birds dart onward, and are buried in
Are you there still, Gray? Do you sing still, Woodie? Health and
happiness, comrades! All friendly stars smile on you! Across the years
and the long leagues that divide us, I salute you!
Thus, at Staunton and Lynchburg, reader, gay scenes broke the monotony.
In my journey toward North Carolina, I found food also, for laughter.
I had gone to Hicksford, fifty miles south of Petersburg, to inspect
the cavalry; and in riding on, I looked with curiosity on the
desolation which the enemy had wrought along the Weldon railroad, when
they had destroyed it in the month of December. Stations, private
houses, barns, stables, all were black and charred ruins. The railroad
was a spectacle. The enemy had formed line of battle close along the
track; then, at the signal, this line of battle had attacked the road.
The iron rails were torn from the sleepers; the latter were then piled
up and fired; the rails were placed upon the blazing mass, and left
there until they became red-hot in the middle, and both ends bent down
--then they had been seized, broken, twisted; in a wild spirit of sport
the men had borne some of the heated rails to trees near the road;
twisted them three or four times around the trunks; and there, as I
passed, were the unfortunate trees with their iron boa-constrictors
around them--monuments of the playful humor of the blue people, months
Hill and Hampton had attacked and driven them back; from the dead
horses, as elsewhere, rose the black vultures on flapping wings: but it
is no part of my purpose, reader, to weary you with these war-pictures,
or describe disagreeable scenes. It is an odd interview which I had on
my return toward Petersburg that my memory recalls. It has naught to do
with my narrative--but then it will not fill more than a page!
I had encountered two wagons, and, riding, ahead of them, saw a courier
of army head-quarters, whose name was Ashe.
I saluted the smiling youth, in return for his own salute, and said:--
"Where have you been, Ashe?"
"To Sussex, colonel, on a foraging expedition."
"For the general?"
"And some of the staff, colonel."
Ashe smiled; we rode on together.
"How did you come to be a forager, Ashe?" I said.
"Well this was the way of it, colonel," he said. "I belonged to the old
Stonewall brigade, but General Lee detailed me at the start of the war
to shoe the head-quarters horses. It was old General Robert that sent
me with these wagons. I was shoeing the general's gray, and had just
pared the hind-hoof, when he sent for me. A man had started with the
wagons, and had mired in the field right by head-quarters. So old
General Robert says, says he, 'Ashe, you can get them out.' I says,
'General, I think I can, if you'll give me a canteen full of your
French brandy for the boys.' He laughed at that, and I says, 'General,
I have been with you three years, and if in that time you have ever
seen me out of the way, I hope you will tell me so.' 'No, Ashe,' says
he, 'I have not, and you shall have the brandy.' And his black fellow
went into the closet and drew me a canteen full; for you see, colonel,
old General Robert always keeps a demijohn full, and carries it about
in his old black spring wagon, to give to the wounded soldiers--he
don't drink himself. Well, I got the brandy, and set the boys to work,
building a road with pine saplings, and got the wagons out! From that
time to this, I have been going with them, colonel, and sometimes some
very curious things have happened."
I assumed that inquiring expression of countenance dear to
story-tellers. Ashe saw it, and smiled.
"Last fall, colonel," he said, "I was down on the Blackwater, foraging
with my wagons, for old General Robert, when a squadron of Yankees
crossed in the ferryboat, and caught me. I did not try to get off, and
the colonel says, says he, 'Who are _you?_' I told him I was only
foraging with General Lee's head-quarters teams, to get something for
the old general to eat, as nothing could be bought in Petersburg; and,
says I, 'I have long been looking to be captured, and now the time has
come.' As I was talking, I saw an uncle of mine among the Yankees, and
says he, 'Ashe, what are you doing here?' 'The same you are doing
there,' I says; and I asked the colonel just to let me off this time,
and I would try and keep out of their way hereafter. He asked me, Would
I come down there any more? And I told him I didn't know--I would have
to go where I was ordered. 'Well,' says he, 'you can't beg off.' But I
says, 'step here a minute, colonel,' and I took him to the wagon, and
offered him my canteen of brandy. He took three or four good drinks,
and then he says, says he, 'That's all I want! You can go on with your
wagons.' And I tell you I put out quick, colonel, and never looked
behind me till I got back to Petersburg?"
[Footnote 1: In the words of the narrator.]
I have attempted to recall here, reader, the few gleams of sunshine,
the rare moments of laughter, which I enjoyed in those months of the
winter of 1864-'5.
I shrink from dwelling on the events of that dreary epoch. Every day I
lost some friend. One day it was the brave John Pegram, whom I had
known and loved from his childhood; the next day it was some other,
whose disappearance left a gap in my life which nothing thenceforth
could fill. I pass over all that. Why recall more of the desolate
epoch than is necessary?
For the rest that is only a momentary laugh that I have indulged in.
Events draw near, at the memory of which you sigh--or even groan
perhaps--to-day, when three years have passed.
For this page is written on the morning of April 8, 1868.
This day, three years ago, Lee was staggering on in sight of
AEGRI SOMNIA.--MARCH, 1865.
These letters and figures arouse terrible memories--do they not,
reader? You shudder as you return in thought to that epoch, provided
always that you then wore the gray, and not the blue. If you wore the
blue, you perhaps laugh.
The South had reached, in this month of March, one of those periods
when the most hopeful can see, through the black darkness, no single
ray of light. Throughout the winter, the government had made unceasing
efforts to bring out the resources of the country--efforts honest and
untiring, if not always judicious--but as the days, and weeks, and
months wore on, it became more and more evident that the hours of the
Confederacy were numbered. The project of employing negro troops, which
Congress long opposed, had been adopted at last, but only in time to be
too late. The peace commissioners had held their interview with
Lincoln, but effected nothing. The enemy continually advanced toward
the achievement of their end. Sherman had safely made his famous "march
to the sea"--Savannah and Charleston had fallen--the western army was
about to unite with the army of Grant at Petersburg. There the great
game went on, but the end was near. Lee had attempted, late in
February, to evacuate his lines, but was overruled. His army was
reduced to about forty thousand, while Grant's numbered about one
hundred and fifty thousand. The Confederate troops were almost naked,
and had scarce food enough to sustain life. They fought still, in the
trenches, along the great line of works, but it was plain, as Lee said,
that the line was stretched so far, that a very little more would snap
That line extended from the Williamsburg road, east of Richmond to Five
Forks, west of Petersburg--a distance of nearly fifty miles. Gradually
Grant had pushed westward, until his grasp was now very nearly upon the
Southside road. Lee had extended his own thin line to still confront
him. The White Oak road, beyond the Rowanty, had been defended by heavy
works. The hill above Burgess's bristled with batteries. The extreme
right of the Confederate line rested in the vicinity of Five Forks.
Beyond that it could not be extended. Already it began to crack. Along
the works stretching from east to west, there was scarce a soldier
every ten yards. Grant was only prevented from bursting through by the
masterly handling of Lee's troops--the rapid concentration of masses at
the points which he threatened. The cavalry was almost paralyzed. The
destruction of the Weldon road southward to Hicksford, in December, had
been a death-blow nearly, to that arm of the service. The Confederate
cavalry had depended upon it, hauling their forage from Stony Creek
Station. Now they had been compelled to go south to Hicksford, the
nearest point, fifty miles from Petersburg. The consequence was that
Lee's right was almost undefended by cavalry. Grant's horsemen could
penetrate, almost unchecked, to the Danville and Southside railroads.
The marvel was, not that this was effected at the end of March, but
that it was not effected a month sooner. But I anticipate.
To glance, for an instant before proceeding, at the condition of the
country. It had reached the last point of depression, and was yielding
to despair. The government was enormously unpopular--mismanagement had
ceased to attract attention. The press roared in vain. The _Enquirer_
menaced the members of Congress from the Gulf States. The _Examiner_
urged that the members of the Virginia Legislature, to be elected in
the spring, should be "clothed with the state sovereignty," to act for
Virginia! Thus the executive and legislative were both attacked. The
people said, "Make General Lee dictator." And General ----- wrote and
printed that, in such an event, he "had the dagger of Brutus" for Lee.
Thus all things were in confusion. The currency was nothing but
paper--it was a melancholy farce to call it money. The Confederate note
was popularly regarded as worth little more than the paper upon which
it was printed. Fathers of families went to market and paid hundreds of
dollars for the few pounds of meat which their households required each
day. Officers were forced to pay one thousand dollars for their boots.
Old saddle-bags were cut up, and the hides of dead horses carried off,
to manufacture into shoes. Uniform coats were no longer procurable--the
government had to supply them gratis, even to field officers. Lee
subsisted, like his soldiers, on a little grease and corn bread.
Officers travelling on duty, carried in their saddle-pockets bits of
bacon and stale bread, for the country could not supply them. In the
homes of the land once overflowing with plenty, it was a question each
day where food could be procured. The government had impressed every
particle, except just sufficient to keep the inmates alive. What the
commissaries had left, the "Yankee cavalry" took. A lady of Goochland
said to a Federal officer, "General, I can understand why you destroy
railroads and bridges, but why do you burn mills, and the houses over
women and children?" The officer bowed, and replied, "Madam, your
soldiers are so brave that we can't beat you; and we are trying to
The interior of these homes of the country was a touching spectacle.
The women were making every sacrifice. Delicate hands performed duties
which had always fallen to menials. The servants had gone to the enemy,
and aristocratic young women cooked, washed, swept, and drudged--a
charming spectacle perhaps to the enemy, who hated the "aristocracy,"
but woeful to fathers, and sons, and brothers, when they came home
sick, or wounded. Clothes had long grown shabby, and were turned and
mended. Exquisite beauty was decked in rags. A faded calico was a
treasure. The gray-haired gentleman, who had always worn broadcloth,
was content with patched homespun. It was not of these things that they
were thinking, however. Dress had not made those seigneurs and
dames--nor could the want of it hide their dignity. The father, and
care-worn wife, and daughter, and sister, were thinking of other
things. The only son was fighting beside Lee--dying yonder, in the
trenches. He was only a "poor private," clad in rags and carrying a
musket--but he was the last of a long line, perhaps, of men who had
built up Virginia and the Federal government which he was fighting--he
was "only a private," but his blood was illustrious; more than all, he
was the treasure of the gray-haired father and mother; the head of the
house in the future; if he fell, the house would fall with him--and it
was nearly certain that he would fall!
So they mourned, and looked fearfully to the coming hours, in town and
country. In the old homesteads--poverty and despair. In the
cities--wasting cares and sinking hearts. More than ever before, all
the vile classes of society rioted and held sway. The forestallers and
engrossers drove a busy trade. They seemed to feel that their "time was
short"--that the night was coming, in which not even rascals could
work! Supplies were hoarded, and doled out at famine prices to the
famine-stricken community; not supplies of luxuries, but of the
commonest necessaries of life. The portly extortioner did not invite
custom, either. Once he had bowed and smirked behind his counter when a
purchaser entered. Now, he turned his back coldly, went on reading his
newspaper, scarce replied to the words addressed to him, and threw his
goods on the counter with the air of one reluctantly conferring a
favor. Foreboding had entered even the hearts of the forestaller and
extortioner. They had sold their souls for gain, and that gain was
turning to dross. As at the wave of a magician's wand, their crisp new
"Confederate notes" had become rags. The biter was bit. His gains were
to count for nothing. Extortioner and victim were soon to be stripped
equally naked--the cold blast of ruin was to freeze both alike. Thus,
all things hastened toward the inevitable catastrophe. Brave hearts did
not shrink, but they saw ruin striding on. Every thing crumbled--the
Confederacy was staggering and gasping in the death agony. Day by day
the cause was slowly, but certainly, being lost. Children cried aloud
for bread--women moaned, and knelt, and prayed. Their last hope was
leaving them. Lee's army was starving and dying. Hour by hour, nearer
and nearer came the roar of the gulf of destruction. A sort of stupor
descended. The country--prostrate and writhing--tried to rise, but
could not. The government knew not where to turn, or what course to
pursue. Grant was growing in strength hourly. Lee's little force was
dwindling. Sherman was streaming through South Carolina. Grant was
reaching out toward Five Forks. All-destroying war grinned
hideously--on all sides stared gaunt Famine. The air jarred with the
thunder of cannon. The days and nights blazed, and were full of wild
cries--of shouts, groans, and reverberations. The ground shook--the
grave yawned--the black cloud slowly drew on; that cloud from which the
thunderbolt was about to fall.
How to describe in a volume like this, now near its end, that terrible
state of coma--that approaching cataclysm, in which all things, social,
civil, and military were about to disappear! The whole fabric of
society was going to pieces; every hour flamed with battles; tragic
events jostled each other; blood gushed; a people were wailing; a
victorious enemy were rushing on; the whole continent trembled; Lee was
being swept away, in spite of every effort which he made to steady his
feet--and that torrent was going to engulf a whole nation!
All this I am to describe in the last few pages of this volume! The
task is far beyond my strength. In the future, some writer may
delineate that hideous dream--to do so to-day, in this year 1868, would
tear the stoutest heart.
For myself, I do not attempt it. Were I able to paint the picture,
there would be no space. My memoir is nearly ended. The threads of the
woof are nearly spun out, and the loom is going to stop. Death stands
ready with his shears to cut the ravelled thread, knit up the seam, and
put his red label on the fabric!
I VISIT GENERAL FITZHUGH LEE.
The end of March, 1865, was approaching when I set out on what was to
prove my last tour of duty amid the pine woods of Dinwiddie.
It was a relief to be back in the army; to see brave faces and smiles
around me, instead of gloomy eyes and careworn cheeks, as in the city.
I passed along the Boydton road almost gayly; crossed the Rowanty at
Burgess's, and went on by General Lee's powerful works covering the
White Oak road, beyond. Soon I was approaching Dinwiddie Court-House,
in the vicinity of which was encamped our small force of starved and
Hampton had gone to meet Sherman, and the cavalry was commanded now by
General Fitzhugh Lee, who had recovered from his severe wound received
at Winchester. I was greeted by this brave soldier and accomplished
gentleman as warmly as I could have desired--for "General Fitz," as we
always called him at Stuart's head-quarters, was the soul of good humor
and good fellowship. You have seen him, have you not, reader--whether
you wore gray or blue--fighting beside him, or meeting him in battle?
You recall the open and manly features, the frank and soldierly glance
of the eye, the long beard and heavy mustache, almost always curling
with laughter? You remember the mirthful voice, the quick jest, the
tone of badinage--that joyful and brave air which said, "as long as
life lasts there is hope!" You have not forgotten this gay cavalier,
the brother-in-arms of Stuart; this born cavalryman, with his love of
adventure, his rollicking mirth, his familiar greeting of high and low,
his charming abandon and ever-ready laughter. That was the character of
the _individual_--of "Fitz Lee," the good companion. The
commander-in-chief has defined for all, the traits of Major-General
Fitzhugh Lee. It was General R.E. Lee who wrote him in 1863, "Your
admirable conduct, devotion to the cause of your country, and devotion
to duty, fill me with pleasure. I hope you will soon see her efforts
for independence crowned with success, and long live to enjoy the
affection and gratitude of your country."
These few lines were worth fighting hard for--were they not? All things
change; many things fail. Chaos or monarchy may come, but the good
opinion of Lee will survive all!
I talked with General Fitz Lee for an hour nearly, recalling the old
days with Stuart, who had loved and confided in him more than in any
other living man. It was a beautiful friendship, indeed, and each
understood the value of the other as man and soldier. Stuart is dead,
and can not give his testimony; but General Fitz Lee is alive, and can
give his. Here and there a voice still denies Stuart's genius as a
commander. Ask his friend who survives; and if tears do not choke the
voice, you will learn the real rank of Stuart!
But I can not linger on these scenes. The narrative draws on.
I mounted my horse, after shaking hands with General Fitz Lee and his
brave staff, and, for the first time, remembered to ask, "Where was Tom
At that question, a beaming smile came to every countenance.
"Done for!" said one.
"Captured!" laughed another.
"Demoralized, subjugated, and negotiating with the enemy!" said a
"Well, where is the place of meeting--where are the terms being
arranged?" I said.
"At a place called Disaways, on the lower Rowanty!"
"Good! I know the road there," I said.
And with a laugh, which the general and his gay cavaliers echoed, I
touched my gray with the spur, and set out toward the south.
BY A FIRE IN THE WOODS.
I pushed on, having resolved, after finishing my duties, to visit
Soon Dinwiddie Court-House came in sight. I entered the small village,
and looked attentively--as I had done on more than one occasion
before--at the locality which General Davenant's narrative had
surrounded with so strange an interest. There was the old tavern, with
its long portico, where Darke had held his orgies, and from which he
had set forth on his errand of robbery and murder. There was the county
jail, in which General Davenant had insisted upon being confined, and
where so many friends had visited him. There was the old court-house,
in which he had been tried for the murder of George Conway; and I
fancied I could distinguish upon one of the shutters, the broken bolt
which Darke had forced, more than ten years before, in order to purloin
the knife with which the crime had been committed.
For some miles, that tragic story absorbed me, banishing all other
reflections. That was surely the strangest of histories!--and the drama
had by no means reached its denouement. Between the first and last acts
"an interval of ten years is supposed to pass." There was the stage
direction! Darke was still alive, active, dangerous, bent on mischief.
He had an able coadjutress in his female ally. That singular woman,
with whom his life was so closely connected, was in prison, it was
true, but the Confederate authorities might release her; she might, at
any moment, recommence her _diablerie_. Had she found that paper--or
had Mohun found it? In any event, she was dangerous--more so, even,
than her male companion--that worthy whom I might meet at every turn in
the road--that prince of surprises and tragic "appearances!"
"Decidedly, these are curiosities, this man and this woman!" I said;
"they are two bottomless pits of daring and depravity. Mohun has
escaped them heretofore, but now, when the enemy seem driving us, and
sweeping every thing before them, will not Darke and madam attain their
vengeance, and come out winners in the struggle?"
With that reflection, I dismissed the subject, and pushed on, over the
narrow and winding roads, to make my inspections.
The day was cold and brilliant; the winds cut the face; and I rode on
steadily, thinking of many things. Then the desire to smoke seized upon
me. General Fitzhugh Lee had given me some excellent cigars, captured
from the enemy, and I looked around to find some house where I could
light my cigar. None appeared; but at two hundred yards from the road,
in a hidden hollow, I thought I perceived the glimmer of a
fire--probably made by some straggler. I rode toward it, descended into
the hollow, approached the fire, beside which crouched a figure,
wrapped in an overcoat. The figure raised its head--and I recognized
He rose and smiled benignantly, as he shook hands with me.
"An unexpected meeting, Nighthawk," I said, laughing. "What on earth
makes you come out and camp in the woods?"
"A little fancy, colonel; you know I am eccentric. I like this way of
living, from having scouted so much--but I came here with an object!"
"To be private. I thought my fire could not be seen from the road."
"Why should it not be?"
"Well, perhaps I exaggerate danger. But I am on an important scouting
expedition--wanted to reflect, and not be seen--I am going, to-night,
through the lines on a little affair of which you know something."
"Ah, what do you refer to?"
"That paper," said Nighthawk, succinctly. "It is in the hands of
Alibi--there is a Yankee picket at his house--but I am going to see
him, and force him to surrender it."
"Is it possible he has it! Do you know that?"
"Strangely enough, colonel. Do you remember that woman, Amanda?"
"Perfectly. I visited her with Mohun."
"He told me of your visit. Well, you no doubt remember also, colonel,
that he offered her a large sum to discover the paper--that she offered
to try and find it, or give him a clue to its whereabouts--he was to
return in ten days, and hear her report."
"Yes," I said.
"Well, he returned, colonel, but Amanda could tell him nothing--which
you no doubt have heard."
"Yes, from him."
"I have been more successful, at last, in dealing with this strange
woman. I do not know if she is a witch or an epileptic, or what--but
she has convinced me that Alibi has the paper we want."
And Nighthawk proceeded to explain. It was an exceedingly curious
explanation. Amanda had first demanded of him a statement of all the
facts. He had thereupon informed her of the appointment which he had
made with Swartz in Richmond, to meet him three days afterward at the
house of Alibi--of his detention by the pickets, so that he had been
unable to keep the appointment--Alibi's statement when he saw him, that
Swartz had not been to his house--and Swartz's confinement in the
lonely house, ending in his murder by Darke. That was all he knew, he
said--the paper was gone--where was it?
"At Mr. Alibi's," Amanda had replied; "I only asked you this, Mr.
Nighthawk, to satisfy myself that my visions were true. I _saw_ poor
Mr. Swartz go to Mr. Alibi's, and ask for you, on the day you
appointed. When he was told that you had not come, he seemed very
low-spirited, and told Mr. Alibi that he _must_ see you, to give you a
paper. His life was threatened, he said, on account of that paper. An
officer and a lady had discovered that he had that paper--it was as
much as his life was worth to keep it on his person--if Mr. Alibi would
take it, and for old times' sake, put it away until _he_ came back, he
would pay him as much gold as he could hold in both hands. Then he gave
the paper to Mr. Alibi, and went away, telling him to say nothing of
"I then asked her," continued Nighthawk, "where the paper could be
found. She replied that Alibi always carried it on his person. That was
a few days ago. I am going to-night to see him, and recover the paper."
I had listened to this narrative with strange interest. This singular
woman was a curious problem. Were her _visions_ really such as she
described them? Or did she only "put this and that together," as the
phrase is, and by her marvellous acumen, sharpened possibly by disease,
arrive at results which defied the most penetrating glance of the sane?
I knew not--but reflecting often upon this subject since, have finally
come to the latter conclusion, as the more philosophic of the two.
Epilepsy is insanity of mind and body; and one of the most infallible
characteristics of insanity is cunning--which is only another word for
diseased and abnormal activity of brain. Amanda arrived at strange
results, but I think she attained them by disease. Her acumen in this
affair could be thus explained, almost wholly. As to the truth of the
explanation, I felt a singular presentiment that it was correct.
"Well, that is curious enough," I said, "and I wish you success,
Nighthawk. What of our other female friend--the fair lady you arrested
"She is safe enough, colonel, and I don't think she will trouble us
"I am glad of it. I think her the more dangerous of _the two_."
"And I agree with you."
"When did you see Darke, last?"
"I have not met him for three months."
"He can not be dead?"
"He may be wounded."
"And Mohun--is he at his head-quarters?"
"He is at Five Forks, to-day, colonel."
"And Willie Davenant?"
"In Richmond, on business at the war department."
"Humph! So I shall see neither--but another time."
And mounting my horse, I added:--
"Good luck, Nighthawk."
"Thank you, colonel--the same to you."
And leaving Nighthawk crouching down beside his fire, I rode on.
DRINKING TEA UNDER DIFFICULTIES.
Pushing on, I reached the cavalry and horse artillery, which I was soon
done with--you see I dismiss "official" matters with commendable
rapidity, reader--then I went on across Roney's bridge and along the
"Flat Foot road" toward Disaways.
Following, amid a great wind and falling boughs, this winding road,
stretching onward between its lofty walls of pines--a wild and deserted
track, outside of the pickets, and completely untravelled. I recrossed
Stony Creek, rode on over a bridle-path, and came just at sunset in
sight of the hill upon which Disaways raised its ancient gables, near
My horse neighed as he cantered up, and passed under the great oaks. He
seemed to feel that this was something like home to him now, and that
his day's march was over. In fact, all the months of winter I had
regularly stopped at Disaways on my way to the cavalry at Hicksford. My
friends had pathetically remonstrated--"there was not a single picket
on the Rowanty in front of me, there, and I would certainly be captured
some day,"--but I had persisted in stopping there still, on every tour
which I made. How to resist the temptation! Disaways was just thirty
miles from Petersburg. I always reached its vicinity as night fell, on
the dark winter days. I was always cold, hungry, weary, depressed by
the dull gray skies; and I knew what awaited me there--a blazing fire,
a good supper, and Katy's smiles brighter than sunshine! She always ran
to greet me, with both hands extended. Her blue eyes danced with joy,
her rosy cheeks glowed, her lips laughed, and were like carnations, her
golden ringlets fell in a shower over her white and delicate temples,
or were blown back in ripples by the wintry wind.
Could you have resisted that, my dear reader? Would you have shrunk
from Yankee scouting parties? For my part I thought I would risk it. I
might be surprised and captured at any moment--the territory was open
to the enemy--but I would have had a charming evening, would have been
cheered by Katy's sunshine--while I was alive and free, I would have
lived, and in a manner the most delightful!
Hitherto some angel had watched over me, and Disaways had been
unvisited by the enemy's scouting parties, without so much as a vedette
at the Halifax bridge, within half a mile. I had sat by the fire, eaten
countless suppers, laughed and conversed with my good friends, slept
soundly in a _real bed_, and gone on my way in the morning rejoicing.
I had thus always escaped surprise. No enemy ever annoyed me. It was
the old adage, however, of the pitcher that went to the well so
often!--but let me go on with my narrative.
As my horse uttered his shrill neigh now, ringing through the March
evening, the door opened and Katy ran out to greet me. She had never
looked more beautiful, and I recall still, as though I had seen it
yesterday, the charming smile on her red lips. The wind blew back her
ringlets till they resembled golden ripples--the rosy cheeks were
flushed--there madam! (I say this to some one who is leaning over my
shoulder, and laughing) don't begrudge me these smiling memories! Katy
was only my little niece as it were--she is married and far away now.
Nay, Surry ought to love and be grateful to the little lady who took
such good care, in those grim days, of--your husband, madam!
Behind Katy appeared the faces of the excellent family, who cordially
greeted me. Behind all appeared the blushing but dandified Tom Herbert.
"Ah! there is a straggler!" I said. "Why don't you send him back to his
command, ladies? Every man should be at his post in this trying
"Oh, bother, my dear Surry! what a tongue you have!" exclaimed Tom.
"I see General Fitz was right, or his staff rather, in what they told
"What did they tell you, my dear boy?"
"That you were demoralized and captured!"
Sweet smile on the faces of the family at these words!
"That you had acknowledged your weakness, seen that further resistance
was hopeless, and were already negotiating a surrender to the enemy.
Well, Tom, what are the terms? Are they arranged?"
Suddenly I felt my hair pulled by an enemy from behind; and looking
round I saw Miss Katy passing by, with an immense appearance of
innocence. Her face was blushing; her lips emitted a low laugh; and
seeing that no one was looking at her, she raised her finger in silent
menace at me.
This caused a diversion, and Tom was enabled to rally his forces.
"My dear Surry," he said, smiling, with his delightfully foppish air,
"it always charms me to meet you, for you are always sparkling,
brilliant, full of wit; which reminds me of the good old days with
Stuart! You have only one fault, my boy, you think yourself a
philosopher. Don't do that, I beg, Surry!--But what's the news from
I acquiesced in the change of topic, and gave Tom the news; but I was
looking at Katy.
More than ever before I admired that little "bird of beauty," flitting
about with charming grace, and an irresistible business air, to get me
my supper, for the rest had just finished. This privilege she always
claimed when I came to Disaways; fighting furiously, if the excellent
lady of the manor attempted to supplant her. Looking at her, as she ran
about now, engaged in her most admirable occupation, I thought her
lovelier than ever before--certainly than when talking in the woods
with Tom! You see she was getting my supper, reader!--and it seemed to
be a labor of love. The little fairy ran on her tiptoes from sideboard
to table; spread a snowy napkin, and placed a gilt china plate upon it;
made tea; covered the table with edibles; and placed beside my plate a
great goblet of yellow cream, of the consistency of syrup. Then she
poured out my tea, set my chair to the table, and came with courtesy
and laughing ceremony, to offer me her arm, and lead me to my seat.
Men are weak, worthy reader, and the most "romantic and poetical" of us
all, have much of the animal in us. That is a mortifying confession. I
was terribly hungry, and at that moment I think my attention was more
closely riveted on the table, than even upon Miss Katy with her roses
I therefore unbuckled my sabre, placed the little hand on my arm, and
was about to proceed toward the table, when a shot, accompanied by a
shout, was heard from the direction of the Rowanty.
I went and buckled on my sword again. Then seeing Tom rise quickly--to
get his horse ready, he said--I requested him to have my own resaddled,
and returned to the table.
I had just raised the cup of tea to my lips, amid warnings from the
family, to take care or I would be captured, when a cavalryman galloped
up the hill, and stopped in front of the door.
"Look out, the Yankees are coming!" he cried.
I glanced through the window, and recognized a man of Mohun's command,
who also recognized me.
"How near are they?" I said, attempting to swallow the burning tea.
"Not a quarter of a mile off, colonel!"
"That will give me time," I said.
And I applied myself again to the tea, which this time I poured out
into the saucer, in order to cool it.
"Look out, colonel!" cried the man.
"Where are they?"
"At the gate."
I finished the tea, and the goblet of cream just as the man
"Here they are, right on you, colonel!"
And I heard the sound of a galloping horse, accompanied by shots at the
I went quickly to the window. A column of Federal cavalry was rapidly
ascending the hill. By the last beams of day I recognized Darke at the
head of the column; and by his side rode Mr. Alibi. I thought I could
see that Darke was thin and very pale, but was not certain. The light
was faint, and I had only one glance--discretion suggested a quick
I just grazed capture--passing through the door, in rear of the
mansion, at the very moment when a number of the enemy, who had hastily
dismounted, rushed in at the front door.
Tom was mounted, and holding my horse, which the good boy had saddled
with his own hands. I leaped to saddle, and had scarcely done so, when
a pistol bullet whizzed by my head. It had crashed through a pane of
the window from within--and a loud shout followed. We had been
Under these circumstances, my dear reader, we always ran in the late
war. Some persons considered it disgraceful to run or dodge, but they
"Don't run until you are obliged to, but then run like the ----!" said
a hard-fighting general.
And one day when a lady was telling General R.E. Lee, how a friend of
hers had dodged once, the general turned to the laughing officer, and
said in his deep voice, "That's right captain, dodge all you can!"
I have often dodged, and more than once have--withdrawn rapidly. On
this occasion, Tom and I thought that retreat was the wisest course. In
a moment we had disappeared in the woods, followed by pistol shots and
some of the enemy.
They did not pursue us far. The Federal cavalry did not like the
In ten minutes their shots were no longer heard; their shouts died
away; and returning on our steps, we came once more in sight of
Disaways and reconnoitred.
The enemy were not visible, and riding up, we dismounted and
[Footnote 1: "I have taken up too much space with this trifle," said
Colonel Surry when I read this, "but that hot tea was a real cup of
tea! I was really burned nearly to death, in attempting to swallow it!
The dialogue with my friend, the cavalryman, was real; and it is just
these trifles which cling to the memory, obscuring the 'greater
The enemy had eaten up my supper! A glance at the table told the whole
tragic history;--but the unnerved family were scarce in a condition to
think of my misfortune.
The enemy had staid for a few moments only, but in that time the family
had gathered important information of their intentions. They were going
to surprise and attack General Fitz Lee that night; and had not so much
as halted, as they passed the house, to gain a by-road beyond. They
were commanded, the men said, by a General Darke, and guided by a man
living near Monk's Neck, whose name was Alibi.
This information of the enemy's design banished all other thoughts from
my mind and Tom's. We ran to our horses--and I think I heard something
like a kiss, in the shadow of the porch, as Tom and Katy parted.
We galloped into the woods, following a course parallel to that taken
by the enemy's cavalry, and keeping as close to it as was safe.
"A sudden parting between yourself and Katy, Tom!" I said, as we
galloped on. "A touching spectacle! When will you be married?"
"In a week or two--to answer seriously, old fellow," responded Tom.
"Is it possible!"
"Even so, my boy."
"Here, at Disaways?"
"No, in Richmond. Katy's family are refugees there, now; and I was
going to escort her to Petersburg to-morrow, but for these rascals--and
I will do it, yet."
"Good! I hope the way will be clear then! Let us go on. There is no
time to lose in order to warn General Fitz!"
We pushed on, following bridle-paths, and making toward Dinwiddie
Court-House. Half an hour thus passed, and we were near the Roney's
Bridge road, when, suddenly, the whole forest on our right blazed with
shots. Loud shouts accompanied the firing. The woods crackled as
horsemen rushed through them. An obstinate fight was going on in the
darkness, between the Federal and Confederate cavalry.
Plainly, the Confederates had not been surprised, and the dash and vim
with which they met the Federal onset, seemed to dishearten their
enemies. For fifteen minutes the combat continued with great fury, amid
the pines; the air was filled with quick spirts of flame, with the
clash of sabres, with loud cheers and cries; then the wave of Federal
horsemen surged back toward the Rowanty; the Confederates pressed them,
with cheer; and the affair terminated in a headlong pursuit.
Tom and myself had gotten into the _melee_ early in the action, and my
feather had been cut out of my hat by a sabre stroke which a big blue
worthy aimed at me. This was my only accident, however. In fifteen
minutes I had the pleasure of seeing our friends run.
I followed with the rest, for about a mile. Then I drew rein, and
turned back--my horse was completely exhausted. I slowly returned
toward Dinwiddie Court-House; hesitated for a moment whether I would
lodge at the tavern; shook my head in a manner not complimentary to the
hostelry; and set out to spend the night at "Five Forks."
I did not know, until some days afterward, that a serious accident had
happened to the worthy Mr. Alibi, guide and friend of General Darke.
He had been struck by a bullet in the fight; had flapped his wings;
cackled; tumbled from his horse; and expired.
Nighthawk's visit thus went for nothing.
Mr. Alibi was dead.
FROM FIVE FORKS TO PETERSBURG.
I shall not dwell upon the evening and night spent at "Five
Forks"--upon whose threshold I was met and cordially greeted by the
gray-haired Judge Conway.
In the great drawing-room I found the young ladies, who hastened to
procure me supper; and I still remember that waiter of every species of
edibles,--that smiling landscape above which rose the spire-like neck
of a decanter! These incessant "bills of fare" will, I fear, revolt
some readers! But these are my memoirs; and _memoirs_ mean
recollections. I have forgotten a dozen battles, but still remember
that decanter-phenomenon in March, 1865. I spent the evening in
cordial converse with the excellent Judge Conway and his daughters, and
on the next morning set out on my return to Petersburg. Mohun had not
been visible. At the first sound of the firing, he had mounted his
horse and departed at a gallop.
So much for my visit to Five Forks. I pass thus rapidly over it, with
real regret--lamenting the want of space which compels me to do so.
Do you love the queenly rose, and the modest lily of the valley,
reader? I could have shown you those flowers, in Georgia and Virginia
Conway. They were exquisitely cordial and high-bred--as was their
gray-haired father. They spoke, and moved, and looked, as only the
high-bred can. Pardon that obsolete word, "high-bred," so insulting in
the present epoch! I am only jesting when I seem to intimate that I
considered the stately old judge better than the black servant who
waited upon me at supper!
Of Mohun and Will Davenant, I had said nothing, in conversing with the
smiling young ladies. But I think Miss Georgia, stately and imposing as
she was, looked at me with a peculiar smile, which said, "You are _his_
friend, and cannot be a mere ordinary acquaintance to _me_!"
And here I ought to inform the reader, that since that first visit of
mine to Five Forks, affairs had marched with the young lady and her
friend. Mohun and Miss Georgia were about to be married, and I was to
be the first groomsman. The woman-hating Benedict of the banks of the
Rappahannock had completely succumbed, and the satirical Beatrice had
also lost all her wit. It died away in sighs, and gave place to
reveries--those reveries which come to maidens when they are about to
embark on the untried seas of matrimony.
But I linger at Five Forks when great events are on the march. Bidding
my hospitable host and his charming daughters good morning, I mounted
my horse and set out over the White Oak road toward Petersburg. As I
approached the Rowanty, I saw that the new defenses erected by Lee,
were continuous and powerful. Long tiers of breastworks, and redoubts
crowning every eminence, showed very plainly the great importance which
Lee attached to holding the position.
In fact, this was the key to the Southside road. Here was to take place
the last great struggle.
I rode on, in deep thought, but soon my reverie was banished. Just as I
reached the hill above Burgess's, who should I see coming from the
direction of the Court-House--but Tom Herbert and Katy Dare!
Katy Dare, on a little pony, with a riding skirt reaching nearly to the
ground!--with her trim little figure clearly outlined by the
fabric--with a jaunty little riding hat balanced lightly upon her
ringlets--with her cheeks full of roses, her lips full of smiles, her
eyes dancing like two blue waves, which the wind agitates!
Don't find fault with her, Mrs. Grundy, for having Tom only as an
escort. Those were stern and troubled times; our poor girls were
compelled often to banish ceremony. Katy had only this means to get
back to her family, and went with Tom as with her brother.
She held out both hands to me, her eyes dancing. Three years have
passed since then, but if I were a painter, I could make her portrait,
reproducing every detail! Nothing has escaped my memory; I still hear
her voice; the sun of 1868, not of 1865, seems to shine on the rosy
cheeks framed by masses of golden ringlets!
I would like to record our talk as we rode on toward
Petersburg--describe that ride--a charming episode, flashing like a
gleam of sunlight, amid the dark days, when the black clouds had
covered the whole landscape. In this volume there is so much gloom!
Suffering and death have met us so often! Can you wonder, my dear
reader, that the historian of such an epoch longs to escape, when he
can, from the gloom of the tragedy, and paint those scenes of comedy
which occasionally broke the monotonous drama? To write this book is
not agreeable to me. I wear out a part of my life in composing it. To
sum up, in cold historic generalities that great epoch would be
little--but to enter again into the hot atmosphere; to live once more
that life of the past; to feel the gloom, the suspense, the despair of
1865 again--believe me, that is no trifle! It wears away the nerves,
and tears the heart. The cheek becomes pale as the MS. grows! The
sunshine is yonder, but you do not see it. The past banishes the
present. Across the tranquil landscape of March, 1868, jars the cannon,
and rushes the storm wind of March, 1865!
The cloud was black above, therefore, but Katy Dare made the world
bright with her own sunshine, that day. All the way to Petersburg, she
ran on in the most charming prattle. The winding Boydton road, like the
banks of the lower Rowanty, was made vocal with her songs--the "Bird of
Beauty" and the whole repertoire. Nor was Tom Herbert backward in
encouraging his companion's mirth. Tom was the soul of joy. He sang
"Katy! Katy! don't marry any other!" with an unction which spoke in his
quick color, and "melting glances" as in the tones of his laughing
voice. Riding along the famous highway, upon which only a solitary
cavalryman or a wagon occasionally appeared, the little maiden and her
lover made the pine-woods ring with their songs, their jests, and their
It is good to be young and to love. Is there any thing more charming?
For my part I think that the curly head holds the most wisdom! Tell me
which was the happier--the gray-haired general yonder, oppressed by
care, or the laughing youth and maiden? It is true there is something
nobler, however, than youth, and joy, and love. It is to know that you
are doing your duty--to bear up, like Atlas, a whole world upon your
shoulders--to feel that, if you fall, the whole world will shake--and
that history will place your name beside that of Washington!
As the sun began to decline, we rode into Petersburg, and bidding Katy
and Tom adieu, I returned to my Cedars.
I had taken my last ride in the "low grounds" of the county of
Dinwiddie; I was never more to see Disaways, unless something carries
me thither in the future. To those hours spent in the old mansion, and
with my comrades, near it, I look back now with delight. Days and
nights on the Rowanty! how you come back to me in dreams! Happy hours
at Disaways, with the cavalry, with the horse artillery! you live still
in my memory, and you will live there always! Katy Dare runs to greet
me again as in the past--again her blue eyes dance, and the happy winds
are blowing her bright curls into ripples! She smiles upon me still--as
in that "winter of discontent." Her cheerful voice again sounds. Her
small hands are held out to me. All things go--nothing lingers--but
those days on the Rowanty, amid the sunset gilded pines, come back with
all their tints, and are fadeless in my memory.
Going back thus in thought, to that winter of 1864, I recall the
friendly faces of Katy, and all my old comrades--I hear their laughter
again, touch their brave hands once more, and salute them, wishing them
long life and happiness.
"Farewell!" I murmur, "Rowanty, and Sappony, and Disaways! _Bonne
fortune!_ old companions, little maiden, and kind friends all! It has
not been time lost to gather together my recollections--to live again
in the past,--to catch the aroma of those hours when kindness smoothed
the front of war! We no longer wear the gray--my mustache only shows it
_now_! but, thank heaven! many things in memory survive. I think of
these--of the old comrades, the old times. Health and happiness attend
you on your way through life, comrades! May the silver spare the gold
of your clustering ringlets, Katy! Joy and gladness follow your steps!
all friendly stars shine on you! Wherever you are, old friends, may a
kind heaven send you its blessing!"
LEE'S LAST GREAT BLOW.
I reached Petersburg on the evening of March 24, 1865.
The ride was a gay comedy--but a tragedy was about to follow it. On the
very next morning, in the gray March dawn, Lee was going to strike his
last great blow at Grant. A column under Gordon, that brave of braves,
was going to be hurled headlong against Hare's Hill, the enemy's
centre, just below Petersburg.
That design was evidently the result of supreme audacity, or of
despair. In either case it indicated the terrible character of the
crisis. There could be no two opinions upon that point. Lee aimed at
nothing less than to cut General Grant's army in two--to root himself
doggedly in the very centre of his enemies, and to force General Grant
to draw back the entire left wing of his army, or run the risk, by
holding his position, to have it destroyed.
Was Lee's motive to open the way for his retreat over the Boydton road
toward Danville? I know not. Military critics say so, and it is certain
that, a month before, he had endeavored to retreat. The government had
checked him, then, but now, that step was plainly the only one left. He
might effect his retreat by forcing Grant to draw in his left wing for
the support of his centre. Lee could then retire from Hare's Hill; make
a rapid march westward; push for North Carolina; and joining his forces
with those of Johnston, continue the war in the Gulf States, falling
back if necessary to Texas.
I have always thought that this was his design, but I was much too
obscure a personage to gain any personal knowledge of his plans. It is
certain that he designed one of two things--either to open the path for
his retreat, or to relieve his right wing toward Five Forks, which was
bending under the immense pressure upon it. Either motive was that of a
good soldier--and what seemed wild audacity was sound common sense.
For the rest, there was little else to do. Some change in the aspect of
things was vitally necessary. Grant had been re-enforced by a large
portion of Sherman's army, and the Federal troops in front of Lee now
numbered about one hundred and fifty thousand. As Lee's force, all