Part 5 out of 12
Mohun raised his head, and looked Swartz full in the face. His glance
had grown, if possible, more penetrating than before, and a grim smile
responded to the unctuous expression of the spy.
"Well, my dear Mr. Swartz," he said coolly, "that is a curious history.
Others might doubt its accuracy, but I give you my word that I do not!
I did well to let you proceed in your own way, instead of questioning
you--but I have not yet done; and this time shall return to the method
"At your orders, general," said Swartz, whose quick glance showed that
he was on his guard, and foresaw what was coming.
Mohun leaned toward the spy.
"Let us proceed to 'call names,'" he said. "The man you rescued from
the grave was Colonel Darke?"
"Is that his real name, or a false one?"
Swartz hesitated; then replied:--
"A false one."
"His real name?"
"And the lady is--?"
"His wife, general."
"Good," said Mohun, "you are well informed, I see, my dear Mr. Swartz;
and it is a pleasure to converse with a gentleman who knows so much,
and knows it so accurately."
"You flatter my pride, general!"
"I do you justice--but to the point. Your story was cut off in the
middle. After the interview in Washington, you continued to see Colonel
Darke and his wife?"
"I saw them frequently, general."
"In the army--and at their home, both?"
"Where did they live?"
"Near Carlisle, Pennsylvania."
"Where you were on a visit, just before the battle of Gettysburg?"
And rising quickly, Mohun confronted the spy, who drew back
"Where is the paper that you stole from the woman that night?" he said.
Swartz was unable to sustain the fiery glance directed toward him by
"Then Nighthawk has told you all!" he exclaimed.
"Colonel Surry saw you hide the paper."
Swartz looked suddenly toward me--his smiles had all vanished.
"The paper! give me the paper!" exclaimed Mohun; "you shall have gold
"I have left it in Culpeper, general."
"Liar!--give me the paper!"
Swartz started to his feet.
Mohun caught at his throat--the spy recoiled--when suddenly a quick
firing was heard coming rapidly from the direction of Germanna Ford.
"The enemy have crossed, Mohun!" I cried.
Mohun started, and turned his head in the direction of the sound.
"They are advancing!" I said, "but look out!--the spy!--"
Mohun wheeled, drawing his pistol.
Swartz had profited by the moment, when our attention was attracted by
the firing, to pass through the door, gain his horse at a bound, and
throw himself into the saddle, with an agility that was incredible in
one so fat.
At the same moment Mohun's pistol-shot responded, but the bullet
whistled harmlessly over the spy's head. In an instant he had
disappeared in the woods.
Mohun rushed to his horse, I followed, and we were soon riding at full
speed in the direction of the firing.
As we advanced, however, it receded. We pushed on, and reached the bank
of the Rapidan just as Mohun's men had driven a party of the enemy
It was only a small body, who, crossing at a private ford and
surprising the sleepy picket, had raided into the thicket, to retire
promptly when they were assailed.
The affair was nothing. Unfortunately, however, it had enabled the
Federal spy to elude us.
Swartz had disappeared like a bird of the night; and all pursuit of him
in such a wilderness was impossible.
An hour afterward, I had rejoined Stuart.
GRANT STRIKES HIS FIRST BLOW.
Such were the singular scenes which I witnessed, amid the shadows of
the Spottsylvania Wilderness, in the first days of May, 1864.
The narrative has brought the reader now to an hour past midnight on
the third of May.
An hour before--that is to say, at midnight precisely--the Federal
forces began to move: at six in the morning, they had massed on the
north bank of the Rapidan; and as the sun rose above the Wilderness,
the blue columns began to cross the river.
General Grant, at the head of his army of 140,000 men, had set forth on
his great advance toward Richmond--that advance so often tried, so
often defeated, but which now seemed, from the very nature of things,
to be destined to succeed.
Any other hypothesis seemed absurd. What could 50,000 do against nearly
thrice their number? What could arrest the immense machine rolling
forward to crush the Confederacy? A glance at Grant's splendid array
was enough to make the stoutest heart sink. On this 4th day of May,
1864, he was crossing the Rapidan with what resembled a countless host.
Heavy masses of blue infantry, with glittering bayonets--huge parks of
rifled artillery, with their swarming cannoneers--long columns of
horsemen, armed with sabre and repeating carbines, made the earth
shake, and the woods echo with their heavy and continuous tramp,
mingled with the roll of wheels.
In front of them, a little army of gaunt and ragged men, looked on and
waited, without resisting their advance. What did that waiting mean?
Did they intend to dispute the passage of that multitude toward
Richmond? It seemed incredible, but that was exactly the intention of
It is now known that General Grant and his officers felicitated
themselves greatly on the safe passage of the Rapidan, and were
convinced that Lee would hasten to retreat toward the South Anna.
Instead of retreating, Lee advanced and delivered battle.
The first collision took place on the 5th of May, when the Federal army
was rapidly massing in the Wilderness.
Ewell had promptly advanced, and about noon was forming line of battle
across the old turnpike, when he was vigorously attacked by Warren, and
his advance driven back. But the real obstacle was behind. Ewell's rear
closed up--he advanced in his turn; assailed Warren with fury; swept
him back into the thicket; seized two pieces of his artillery, with
about 1,000 prisoners; and for the time completely paralyzed the
Federal force in his front.
Such was the first blow struck. It had failed, and General Grant turned
his attention to A.P. Hill, who had hastened up, and formed line of
battle across the Orange plank road, on Ewell's right.
Hancock directed the assault here, and we have General Lee's testimony
to the fact, that the Federal attempts to drive back Hill were
"repeated and desperate." All failed. Hill stubbornly held his ground.
At night the enemy retired, and gave up all further attempts on that
day to make any headway.
Grant had expected to find a mere rear-guard, while Lee's main body was
retreating upon Richmond.
He found two full corps in his front; and there was no doubt that a
third--that of Longstreet--was approaching.
Lee was evidently going to fight--his aim was, plainly, to shut up
Grant in the Wilderness, and drive him back beyond the Rapidan, or
It was twilight and the fighting was over.
The two tigers had drawn back, and, crouching down, panted
heavily,--resting and gathering new strength for the fiercer conflict
of the next day.
From the thickets rose the stifled hum of the two hosts. Only a few
shots were heard, now and then, from the skirmishers, and these
resembled the last drops of a storm which had spent its fury.
I had been sent by General Stuart with an order to General Hampton, who
commanded the cavalry on Hill's right.
Hampton was sitting his horse in a field extending, at this point,
between us and the enemy; and, if it were necessary, I would draw his
outline. It is not necessary, however; every one is familiar with the
figure of this great and faithful soldier, in his old gray coat, plain
arms and equipments, on his large and powerful war-horse,--man and
horse ready for battle. In the war I saw many great figures,--Hampton's
was one of the noblest.
Having delivered my message to General Hampton, who received it with
his air of grave, yet cordial courtesy, I turned to shake hands with
Captain Church--a thorough-bred young officer, as brave as steel, and
one of my best friends--when an exclamation from the staff attracted my
attention, and looking round, I saw the cause.
At the opposite extremity of the extensive field, a solitary horseman
was seen darting out of the woods occupied by the Federal infantry, and
this man was obviously a deserter, making his way into our lines.
At a sign from General Hampton, Captain Church went to meet him, and as
my horse was fresh, I accompanied my friend in his ride.
The deserter came on at full speed to meet us, and for a moment, his
horse skimmed the dusky expanse like a black-winged bird. Then, all
at once, his speed moderated; he approached at a jog-trot, and through
the gathering gloom I recognised, above the blue uniform, the sweetly
smiling countenance of Nighthawk!
[Footnote 1: This scene is real.]
"Good evening, colonel," said Nighthawk; "I am glad to see you again,
and hope you are well."
"So you have turned deserter, Nighthawk?" I said, laughing heartily.
"Precisely, colonel. I could not get off before. Will you inform me
where I can find General Stuart?"
"I will take you to him."
And riding back with Captain Church and Nighthawk, I soon found myself
again in presence of General Hampton.
A word from me explained the real character of the pseudo-deserter.
General Hampton asked a number of questions, Nighthawk replied to them,
and then the latter begged me to conduct him to General Stuart. I did
so without delay, and we soon reached Stuart's bivouac, where he was
talking with his staff by a camp-fire.
At sight of the blue figure he scarcely turned; then suddenly he
recognized Nighthawk, and burst into laughter.
"Well, my blue night-bird!" he exclaimed, "here you are at last! What
news? Is Grant going to cross the river?"
Nighthawk hung his head, and sighed audibly.
"I could not help it, general."
"Why didn't you come before?"
"It was impossible, general."
Stuart shook his head.
"Strike that word out of your dictionary, my friend."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
"That is good advice, general; but this time they nonplussed me. They
blocked every road, and I had to join their army."
"Well, I hope you got the $600 bounty," said Stuart, laughing.
"That was another impossibility, general; but I enjoyed the very best
"What society, Nighthawk?"
"That of Grant, Meade, and Sedgwick."
"Ah! my old friend, General Sedgwick! But where are Grant's
headquarters, Nighthawk? Tell me every thing!"
"At Old Wilderness Tavern, general."
"And you saw him there?"
"In the midst of his generals,--I was temporarily one of his couriers."
"I understand. Well, their intended movements?"
Nighthawk shook his head.
"I could have foretold you those of to-day, general."
"I heard General Meade dictating his order, through the window of his
head-quarters, and can repeat it _verbatim_, if you desire."
"By all means, Nighthawk,--it will reveal his programme. But is it
possible that you can do so?"
"I can, general; I engraved every word on my memory."
And, fixing his eyes intently upon vacancy, Nighthawk commenced in a
low, monotonous voice:--
"The following movements are ordered for the 5th May, 1864. General
Sheridan, commanding cavalry corps, will move with Gregg's and
Torbert's divisions against the enemy's cavalry, in the direction of
Hamilton's Crossing. General Wilson, with the Third cavalry division,
will move at 5 A.M., to Craig's meeting-house, on the Catharpin road.
He will keep out parties on the Orange Court-House pike, and plank
road, the Catharpin road, Pamunkey road, and in the direction of
Troyman's store and Andrew's store, or Good Hope church. 2. Major-
General Hancock, commanding Second Corps, will move at 5 A.M., to Shady
Grove church, and extend his right toward the Fifth Corps at Parker's
store. 3. Major-General Warren, commanding Fifth Corps, will move at 5
A.M., to Parker's store, on the Orange Court-House plank road, and
extend his right toward the Sixth Corps at Old Wilderness Tavern. 4.
Major-General Sedgwick, commanding Sixth Corps, will move to the Old
Wilderness Tavern, on the Orange Court-House pike, as soon as the road
The monotonous voice stopped. I had listened with astonishment, and
found it difficult to credit this remarkable feat of memory, though it
took place before my eyes, or rather, in my ears.
"It is really wonderful," said Stuart, gravely.
"You see," said Nighthawk, returning to his original voice, so to
speak, "you see, general, this would have been of some importance
"It is very important now," said Stuart; "it indicates Grant's
programme--his wish to get out of the Wilderness. He is at Old
"He was this morning, general, with Meade and Sedgwick."
"You were there?"
"I was, general."
"What did you gather, Nighthawk?"
"Little or nothing, general. True, I heard one or two amusing things as
I loitered among the couriers near."
"General Grant came out talking with Meade, Sedgwick, and Warren.
General Meade said, '_They have left a division to fool us here, while
they concentrate, and prepare a position toward the North
Anna,--and what I want is to prevent these fellows from getting back to
[Footnote 1: His words.]
"Well,'these fellows' don't appear to be going back. What did Grant
"He smoked, general."
"And did not open his lips?"
"Only once, when General Meade said something about 'manoeuvring.'"
"What did he say?"
"I can give you his words. He took his cigar from his lips--puffed out
the smoke--and replied, '_Oh! I never manoeuvre_!'"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
"So much the better," said Stuart: "the general that does not manoeuvre
sacrifices his men: and I predict that General Grant will soon alter
Stuart had ordered his horse to be saddled, and now mounted to go to
General Lee's head-quarters.
"By the bye," he said, "did you hear Warren or Sedgwick say any thing,
"I heard Sedgwick utter a few words, general."
"He said to Warren, '_I hear Hood is to take Stuart's place. I am glad
of it, for Stuart is the best cavalry officer ever foaled in North
[Footnote 1: His words.]
THE UNSEEN DEATH.
The morning of the 6th of May was ushered in with thunder.
The battle of the preceding day had been a sort of "feeler"--now the
real struggle came.
By a curious coincidence, Grant and Lee both began the attack and at
the same hour. At five o'clock in the morning the blue and gray ranks
rushed together, and opened fire on each other. Or rather, they fired
when they heard each others' steps and shouts. You saw little in that
I have already spoken more than once of this sombre country--a land of
undergrowth, thicket, ooze; where sight failed, and attacks had to be
made by the needle, the officers advancing in front of the line with
The assaults here were worse than night fighting; the combats strange
beyond example. Regiments, brigades, and divisions stumbled on each
other before they knew it; and each opened fire, guided alone by the
crackling of steps in the bushes. There was something weird and
lugubrious in such a struggle. It was not a conflict of men, matched
against each other in civilized warfare. Two wild animals were
prowling, and hunting each other in the jungle. When they heard each
others' steps, they sprang and grappled. One fell, the other fell upon
him. Then the conqueror rose up and went in pursuit of other game--the
dead was lost from all eyes.
In this mournful and desolate country of the Spottsylvania Wilderness,
did the bloody campaign of 1864 begin. Here, where the very landscape
seemed dolorous; here, in blind wrestle, as at midnight, did 200,000
men, in blue and gray, clutch each other--bloodiest and weirdest of
War had had nothing like it. Destruction of life had become a science,
and was done by the compass.
The Genius of Blood, apparently tired of the old common-place mode of
killing, had invented the "Unseen Death," in the depths of the jungle.
On the morning of May 6th, Lee and Grant had grappled, and the battle
became general along the entire line of the two armies. In these rapid
memoirs I need only outline this bitter struggle--the histories will
Lee was aiming to get around the enemy's left, and huddle him up in the
thicket--but in this he failed.
Just as Longstreet, who had arrived and taken part in the action, was
advancing to turn the Federal flank on the Brock road, he was wounded
by one of his own men; and the movement was arrested in mid career.
But Lee adhered to his plan. He determined to lead his column in
person, and would have done so, but for the remonstrances of his men.
"To the rear!" shouted the troops, as he rode in front of them; "to the
And he was obliged to obey.
He was not needed.
The gray lines surged forward: the thicket was full of smoke and quick
flashes of flame: then the woods took fire, and the scene of carnage
had a new and ghastly feature added to it. Dense clouds of smoke rose,
blinding and choking the combatants: the flames crackled, soared aloft,
and were blown in the men's faces; and still, in the midst of this
frightful array of horrors, the carnival of destruction went on without
At nightfall, General Lee had driven the enemy from their front line of
works--but nothing was gained.
What _could_ be gained in that wretched country, where there was
nothing but thicket, thicket!
General Grant saw his danger, and, no doubt, divined the object of his
adversary,--to arrest and cripple him in this tangle-wood, where
numbers did not count, and artillery could not be used.
There was but one thing to do--to get out of the jungle.
So, on the day after this weird encounter, in which he had lost nearly
20,000 men, and Lee about 8,000, Grant moved toward Spottsylvania.
The thickets of the Wilderness were again silent, and the blue and gray
objects in the undergrowth did not move.
The war-dogs had gone to tear each other elsewhere.
BREATHED AND HIS GUN.
In the din and smoke of that desperate grapple of the infantry, I have
lost sight of the incessant cavalry combats which marked each day with
And now there is no time to return to them. A great and sombre event
drags the pen. With one scene I shall dismiss those heroic fights--but
that scene will be superb.
Does the reader remember the brave Breathed, commanding a battalion of
the Stuart horse artillery? I first spoke of him on the night preceding
Chancellorsville, when he came to see Stuart, at that time he was
already famous for his "do-or die" fighting. A Marylander by birth, he
had "come over to help us:" had been the right-hand man of Pelham; the
favorite of Stuart; the admiration of the whole army for a courage
which the word "reckless" best describes;--and now, in this May, 1864,
his familiar name of "Old Jim Breathed," bestowed by Stuart, who held
him in high favor, had become the synonym of stubborn nerve and _elan_,
unsurpassed by that of Murat. To fight his guns to the muzzles, or go
in with the sabre, best suited Breathed. A veritable bull-dog in
combat, he shrank at nothing, and led everywhere. I saw brave men in
the war--none braver than Breathed. When he failed in any thing, it was
because reckless courage could not accomplish it.
He was young, of vigorous frame, with dark hair and eyes, and tanned by
sun and wind. His voice was low, and deep; his manners simple and
unassuming; his ready laugh and off-hand bearing indicated the born
soldier; eyes mild, friendly, and full of honesty. It was only when
Breathed was fighting his guns, or leading a charge, that they
resembled red-hot coals, and seemed to flame.
To come to my incident. I wish, reader, to show you Breathed; to let
you see the whole individual in a single exploit. It is good to record
things not recorded in "history." They are, after all, the real glory
of the South of which nothing can deprive her. I please myself, too,
for Breathed was my friend. I loved and admired him--and only a month
or two before, he had made the whole army admire--and laugh with--him
See how memory leads me off! I am going to give ten words, first, to
that incident which made us laugh.
In the last days of winter, a force of Federal cavalry came to make an
attack on Charlottesville--crossing the Rapidan high up toward the
mountains, and aiming to surprise the place. Unfortunately for him,
General Custer, who commanded the expedition, was to find the Stuart
horse artillery in winter quarters near. So sudden and unexpected was
Custer's advance, that the artillery camps were entirely surprised. At
one moment, the men were lying down in their tents, dozing, smoking,
laughing--the horses turned out to graze, the guns covered, a profound
peace reigning--at the next, they were running to arms, shouting, and
in confusion, with the blue cavalry charging straight on their tents,
sabre in hand.
Breathed had been lounging like the rest, laughing and talking with the
men. Peril made him suddenly king, and, sabre in hand, he rushed to the
guns, calling to his men to follow.
With his own hands he wheeled a gun round, drove home a charge, and
trained the piece to bear upon the Federal cavalry, trampling in among
the tents within fifty yards of him.
"Man the guns!" he shouted, in his voice of thunder. "Stand to your
guns, boys! You promised me you would never let these guns be
[Footnote 1: His words.]
A roar of voices answered him. The bull-dogs thrilled at the voice of
the master. Suddenly the pieces spouted flame; shell and canister tore
through the Federal ranks. Breathed was everywhere, cheering on the
cannoneers. Discharge succeeded discharge; the ground shook: then the
enemy gave back, wavering and losing heart.
Breathed seized the moment. Many of the horses had been caught and
hastily saddled. Breathed leaped upon one of them, and shouted:--
The men threw themselves into the saddle--some armed with sabres,
others with clubs, others with pieces of fence-rail, caught up from the
"Charge!" thundered Breathed.
At the head of his men, he lead a headlong charge upon the Federal
cavalry, which broke and fled in the wildest disorder, pursued by the
ragged cannoneers, Breathed in front, with yells, cheers, and cries of
They were pursued past Barboursville to the Rapidan, without pause.
That night Stuart went after them: their officers held a council of
war, it is said, to decide whether they should not bury their artillery
near Stannardsville, to prevent is capture. On the day after this, they
In passing Barboursville, on their return from Charlottesville, one of
the Federal troopers stopped to get a drink of water at the house of a
"What's the matter?" asked the citizen.
"Well, we are retreating."
"Who is after you?"
"Nobody but old Jim Breathed and his men, armed with fence-rails."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
Such was one of a dozen incidents in Breathed's life. Let me come to
that which took place near Spottsylvania Court-House.
Grant had moved, as we have seen, by his left flank toward that place.
General Fitzhugh Lee opposed him on the way, and at every step harassed
the head of the Federal column with his dismounted sharp-shooters and
horse artillery. Near Spottsylvania Court-House, it was the stand made
by Fitz Lee's cavalry that saved the position, changing the aspect of
the whole campaign.
Sent by Stuart with a message to the brave "General Fitz," I reached
him near Spottsylvania Court-House, at the moment when he had just
ordered his cavalry to fall back slowly before the advancing enemy, and
take a new position in rear.
Two guns which had been firing on the enemy were still in battery on a
hill; upon these a heavy Federal skirmish line was steadily moving: and
beside the guns, Breathed and Fitzhugh Lee sat their horses, looking
coolly at the advancing line.
"Give them a round of canister, Breathed!" exclaimed General Fitz Lee.
Breathed obeyed, but the skirmish line continued bravely to advance.
All at once, there appeared in the woods behind them, a regular line of
battle advancing, with flags fluttering.
To remain longer on the hill was to lose the guns. The bullets were
whizzing around us, and there was but one course left--to fall back.
"Take the guns off, Breathed!" exclaimed the general; "there is no time
to lose! Join the command in the new position, farther down the road!"
Breathed looked decidedly unwilling.
"A few more rounds, general!"
And turning to the men, he shouted:--
"Give them canister!"
At the word, the guns spouted flame, and the canister tore through the
line of skirmishers, and the Federal line of battle behind; but it did
not check them. They came on more rapidly, and the air was full of
"Look out for the guns, Breathed! Take them off!" exclaimed the
Breathed turned toward one of the pieces, and ordered:--
"Limber to the rear!"
The order was quickly obeyed.
The piece went off at a thundering gallop, pursued by bullets.
"Only a few more rounds, general!" pleaded Breathed; "I won't lose the
As he spoke, the enemy rushed upon the single gun.
Breathed replied by hurling canister in their faces. He sat his horse,
unflinching. Never had I seen a more superb soldier.
The enemy were nearly at the muzzle of the piece.
"Surrender!" they were heard shouting; "surrender the gun!" Breathed's
response was a roar, which hurled back the front rank.
Then, his form towering amid the smoke, his eyes flashing, his drawn
sabre whirled above his head, Breathed shouted,--
The cannoneers seized the trail; the horses wheeled at a gallop; the
piece was limbered up; and the men rushed down the hill to mount their
horses, left there.
Then around the gun seemed to open a volcano of flame. The Federal
infantry were right on it. A storm of bullets cut the air. The drivers
leaped from the horses drawing the piece, thinking its capture
inevitable, and ran down the hill.
In an instant they had disappeared. The piece seemed in the hands of
the enemy--indeed, they were almost touching it--a gun of the Stuart
horse artillery for the first time was to be captured!
That thought seemed to turn Breathed into a giant. As the drivers
disappeared, his own horse was shot under him, staggered, sunk, and
rolled upon his rider. Breathed dragged himself from beneath the
bleeding animal, rose to his feet, and rushing to the lead horses of
the gun, leaped upon one of them, and struck them violently with his
sabre to force them on.
As he did so, the horse upon which he was mounted fell, pierced by a
bullet through the body.
Breathed fell upon his feet, and, with the edge of his sabre, cut the
two leaders out of the traces. He then leaped upon one of the middle
horses--the gun being drawn by six--and started off.
He had not gone three paces, when the animal which he now rode fell
dead in turn. Breathed rolled upon the ground, but rising to his feet,
severed the dead animal and his companion from the piece, as he had
done the leaders.
He then leaped upon one of the wheel-horses--these alone being now
left--struck them furiously with his sabre--started at a thundering
gallop down the hill--and pursued by a hail-storm of bullets, from
which, as General Lee says in his report, "he miraculously escaped
unharmed," carried off the gun in safety, and rejoined the cavalry,
greeted by a rolling thunder of cheers.
Such was the manner in which Breathed fought his artillery, and the
narrative is the barest and most simple statement of fact.
Breathed came out of the war a lieutenant-colonel only. Napoleon would
have made him a marshal.
MY LAST RIDE WITH STUART.
More than one stirring incident marked those days of desperate
fighting, when, barricading all the roads, and charging recklessly,
Stuart opposed, at every step, Grant's advance toward the Po.
But I can not describe those incidents. They must be left to others.
The pen which has paused to record that exploit of Breathed, is drawn
onward as by the hand of Fate toward one of those scenes which stand
out, lugubrious and bloody, from the pages of history.
From the moment when Grant crossed the Rapidan, Stuart had met the
horsemen of Sheridan everywhere in bitter conflict; and the days and
nights had been strewed all over with battles.
Now, on the ninth of May, when the two great adversaries faced each
other on the Po, a more arduous service still was demanded of the great
sabreur. Sheridan had been dispatched to sever General Lee's
communications, and, if possible, capture Richmond. The city was known
to be well nigh stripped of troops, and a determined assault might
result in its fall. Sheridan accordingly cut loose a heavy column, took
command of it in person, and descended like a thunderbolt toward the
No sooner, however, had he begun to move, than Stuart followed on his
track. He had no difficulty in doing so. A great dust-cloud told the
story. That cloud hung above the long column of Federal cavalry,
accompanied it wherever it moved, and indicated clearly to Stuart the
course which his adversary was pursuing.
If he could only interpose, with however small a force, between
Sheridan and Richmond, time would be given for preparation to resist
the attack, and the capital might be saved. If he failed to interpose,
Sheridan would accomplish his object--Richmond would fall.
It was a forlorn hope, after all, that he could arrest the Federal
commander. General Sheridan took with him a force estimated at 9,000.
Stuart's was, in all, about 3,000; Gordon, who was not in the battle at
Yellow Tavern, included. That action was fought by Fitz Lee's division
of 2,400 men all told. But the men and officers were brave beyond
words; the incentive to daring resistance was enormous; they would do
all that could be done.
Such was the situation of affairs on the 9th of May, 1864.
Stuart set out at full gallop on his iron gray, from Spottsylvania
Court-House, about three o'clock in the day, and reached Chilesburg,
toward Hanover Junction, just as night fell.
Here we found General Fitz Lee engaged in a hot skirmish with the
enemy's rear-guard; and that night Stuart planned an attack upon their
camp, but abandoned the idea.
His spirits at this time were excellent, but it was easy to see that he
realized the immense importance of checking the enemy.
An officer said in his presence:--
"We won't be able to stop Sheridan."
Stuart turned at those words; his cheeks flushed; his eyes flamed, and
"No, sir! I'd rather die than let him go on!"
[Footnote 1: His words]
On the next morning, he moved in the direction of Hanover Junction;
riding boot to boot with his friend General Fitz Lee. I had never seen
him more joyous. Some events engrave themselves forever on the memory.
That ride of May 10th, 1864, was one of them.
Have human beings a presentiment, ever, at the near approach of death?
Does the shadow of the unseen hand ever reveal itself to the eye? I
know not, but I know that no such presentiment came to Stuart; no
shadow of the coming event darkened the path of the great cavalier. On
the contrary, his spirits were buoyant beyond example, almost; and,
riding on with General Fitz Lee, he sang in his gallant voice his
favorite ditties "Come out of the Wilderness!" and "Jine the Cavalry!"
As he rode on thus, he was the beau ideal of a cavalier. His seat in
the saddle was firm; his blue eyes dazzling; his heavy mustache curled
with laughter at the least provocation. Something in this man seemed to
spring forward to meet danger. Peril aroused and strung him. All his
energies were stimulated by it. In that ride through the May forest, to
attack Sheridan, and arrest him or die, Stuart's bearing and expression
were superbly joyous and inspiring. His black plume floated in the
spring breeze, like some knight-errant's; and he went to battle humming
a song, resolved to conquer or fall.
Riding beside him, I found my eyes incessantly attracted to his proud
face; and now I see the great cavalier as then, clearly with the eyes
of memory. What a career had been his! what a life of battles!
As we went on through the spring woods, amid the joyous songs of birds,
all the long, hard combats of this man passed before me like an immense
panorama. The ceaseless scouting and fighting in the Shenandoah Valley;
the charge and route of the red-legged "Zouaves" at Manassas; the
falling back to the Peninsula, and the fighting all through Charles
City; the famous ride around McClellan; the advance and combats on the
Rapidan and Rappahannock, after Cedar Mountain; the night attack on
Catlett's, when he captured Pope's coat and papers; the march on
Jackson's flank, and the capture of Manassas; the advance into
Maryland; the fights at Frederick, Crampton's, and Boonsboro', with the
hard rear-guard work, as Lee retired to Sharpsburg; his splendid
handling of artillery on the left wing of the army there; the retreat,
covered by his cavalry; the second ride around McClellan, and safe
escape from his clutches; the bitter conflicts at Upperville and
Barbee's, as Lee fell back; the hard fighting thereafter, on the banks
of the Rappahannock; the "crowding 'em with artillery," on the night of
Fredericksburg; the winter march to Dumfries; the desperate battle at
Kelly's Ford; the falling back before Hooker; the battle of
Chancellorsville, when he succeeded Jackson; the stubborn wrestle of
Fleetwood; the war of giants below Upperville; the advance across
Maryland into Pennsylvania, when the long march was strewed all over
with battles, at Westminister, Hanover, Carlisle, Gettysburg, where he
met and repulsed the best cavalry of the Federal army; the retreat from
Gettysburg, with the tough affair near Boonsboro'; guarding the rear of
the army as it again crossed the Potomac; then the campaign of October,
ending with Kilpatrick's route at Buckland; the assault on Meade's head
of column, when he came over to Mine Run; the bold attack on his rear
there; and the hard, incessant fighting since Grant had come over to
the Wilderness;--I remembered all these splendid scenes and illustrious
services as I rode on beside Stuart, through the fields and forests of
Hanover, and thought, "This is one of those great figures which live
forever in history, and men's memories!"
To-day, I know that I was not mistaken, or laboring under the influence
of undue affection and admiration. That figure has passed from earth,
but still lives!
Stuart is long dead, and the grass covers him; but there is scarce a
foot of the soil of Virginia that does not speak of him. He is gone,
but his old mother is proud of him--is she not?
Answer, mountains where he fought--lowlands, where he fell--river,
murmuring a dirge, as you foam through the rocks yonder, past his
"SOON WITH ANGELS I'LL BE MARCHING."
Let me rapidly pass over the events of the tenth of May.
Gordon's little brigade had been ordered to follow on the rear of the
enemy, while Fitz Lee moved round by Taylorsville to get in front of
Stuart rode and met Gordon, gave the brave North Carolinian, so soon to
fall, his last orders; and then hastened back to Fitz Lee, who had
continued to press the enemy.
They had struck the Central railroad, but the gray cavaliers were close
on them. Colonel Robert Randolph, that brave soul, doomed like Gordon,
charged them furiously here, took nearly a hundred prisoners, and drove
them across the road.
At this moment Stuart returned, and pushed forward toward Taylorsville,
from which point he intended to hasten on and get in their front.
About four in the afternoon we reached Fork church, and the command
halted to rest.
Stuart stretched himself at full length, surrounded by his staff, in a
field of clover; and placing his hat over his face to protect his eyes
from the light, snatched a short sleep, of which he was very greatly in
The column again moved, and that night camped near Taylorsville,
awaiting the work of the morrow.
At daylight on the 11th, Stuart moved toward Ashland. Here he came up
with the enemy; attacked them furiously, and drove them before him, and
out of the village, killing, wounding, and capturing a considerable
Then he put his column again in motion, advanced rapidly by the
Telegraph road toward Yellow Tavern, a point near Richmond, where he
intended to intercept the enemy--the moment of decisive struggle, to
which all the fighting along the roads of Hanover had only been the
prelude, was at hand.
Stuart was riding at the head of his column, looking straight forward,
and with no thought, apparently, save that of arriving in time.
He was no longer gay. Was it the coming event; was it the loss of
sleep; the great interest at stake; the terrible struggle before him? I
know not; but he looked anxious, feverish, almost melancholy.
"My men and horses are tired, jaded, and hungry, but all right," he had
written to General Bragg, from Ashland.
And these words will serve in large measure to describe the condition
of the great commander himself.
I was riding beside him, when he turned to me and said, in a low
"Do you remember a conversation which we had at Orange, Surry, that
night in my tent?"
"And what I said?"
"Every word is engraved, I think, upon my memory."
"Good. Do not let one thing ever escape you. Remember, that I said what
I say again to-day, that 'Virginia expects every man to do his duty!'"
"I will never forget that, general."
He smiled, and rode on. For half a mile he was silent. Then I heard
escape from his lips, in a low, musing voice, a refrain which I had
never heard him sing before--
"Soon with angels I'll be marching!"
[Footnote 1: Real]
I know not why, but that low sound made me shiver.
YELLOW TAVERN, MAY 11, 1864.
Yellow Tavern! At the mention of that name, a sort of tremor agitates
me even to-day, when nearly four years have passed.
In my eyes, the locality is cursed. A gloomy cloud seems ever hanging
over it. No birds sing in the trees. The very sunshine of the summer
days is sad there.
But I pass to my brief description of the place, and the event which
made it one of the black names in Southern history.
Yellow Tavern is an old dismantled hostelry, on the Brook road, about
six miles from Richmond. Nothing more dreary than this desolate wayside
inn can be imagined. Its doors stand open, its windows are gone, the
rotting floor crumbles beneath the heel, and the winds moan through the
paneless sashes, like invisible spirits hovering near and muttering
some lugubrious secret. "This is the scene of some deed of darkness!"
you are tempted to mutter, as you place your feet upon the threshold.
When you leave the spot behind you, a weight seems lifted from your
breast--you breathe freer.
Such was the Yellow Tavern when I went there in the spring of 1864. Is
it different to-day? Do human beings laugh there? I know not; but I
know that nothing could make it cheerful in my eyes. It was, and is,
and ever will be, a thing accursed!
For the military reader, however, a few words in reference to the
topographical features of the locality are necessary.
Yellow Tavern is at the forks of the Telegraph and Mountain roads, six
miles from Richmond. The Telegraph road runs north and south--over this
road Stuart marched. The Mountain road comes into it from the
northwest. By this road Sheridan was coming.
Open the left hand, with the palm upward; the index finger pointing
north. The thumb is the Mountain road; the index-finger the Telegraph
road; where the thumb joins the hand is the Yellow Tavern in open
fields; and Richmond is at the wrist.
Toward the head of the thumb is a wood. Here Wickham, commanding
Stuart's right, was placed, his line facing the Mountain road so as to
strike the approaching enemy in flank.
From Wickham's left, or near it, Stuart's left wing, under Lomax,
extended along the Telegraph road to the Tavern--the two lines thus
forming an obtuse angle.
On a hill, near Lomax's right, was Breathed with his guns.
The object of this disposition of Stuart's force will be seen at a
glance. Lomax, commanding the left, was across the enemy's front;
Wickham, commanding the right, was on their flank; and the artillery
was so posted as to sweep at once the front of both Stuart's wings.
The enemy's advance would bring them to the first joint of the thumb.
There they would receive Lomax's fire in front; Wickham's in flank; and
Breathed's transversely. The cross fire on that point, over which the
enemy must pass, would be deadly. Take a pencil, reader, and draw the
diagram, and lines of fire. That will show Stuart's excellent design.
Stuart had reached Yellow Tavern, and made his dispositions before the
arrival of Sheridan, who was, nevertheless, rapidly advancing by the
Mountain road. Major McClellan, adjutant-general, had been sent to
General Bragg, with a suggestion that the latter should attack from the
direction of the city, at the moment when the cavalry assailed the
Federal flank. All was ready.
It was the morning of May 11th, 1864.
Never was scene more beautiful and inspiring. The men were jaded, like
their horses; but no heart shrank from the coming encounter. Stretching
in a thin line from the tavern into the woods on the right of the
Mountain road, the men sat their horses, with drawn sabres gleaming in
the sun; and the red battle-flags waved proudly in the fresh May
breeze, as though saluting Stuart, who rode in front of them.
Such was the scene at Yellow Tavern. The moment had come. At about
eight, a stifled hum, mixed with the tramp of hoofs, was heard. Then a
courier came at a gallop, from the right, to Stuart. The enemy were in
sight, and advancing rapidly.
Stuart was sitting his horse near Yellow Tavern when that intelligence
reached him. He rose in his saddle, took his field-glasses from their
leathern case, and looked through them in the direction of the woods
across the Mountain road.
Suddenly, quick firing came on the wind--then, loud shouts. Stuart
lowered his glasses, shut them up, replaced them in their case, and
drew his sabre.
Never had I seen him present an appearance more superb. His head was
carried proudly erect, his black plume floated, his blue eyes
flashed--he was the _beau ideal_ of a soldier, and as one of his
bravest officers afterward said to me, looked as if he had resolved
on "victory or death." I had seen him often aroused and strung for
action. On this morning he seemed on fire, and resembled a veritable
king of battle.
[Footnote 1: Breathed.]
Suddenly, the skirmish line of the enemy appeared in front of the
woods, and a quick fire was opened on Stuart's sharp-shooters under
Colonel Pate, in the angle of the two roads; Stuart hastened to take
the real initiative. He posted two guns on a rising ground in the
angle, and opened a heavy fire; and galled by this fire, the enemy
suddenly made a determined charge upon the guns.
Stuart rose in his stirrups and gazed coolly at the heavy line
advancing upon him, and forcing Pate's handful back.
"Take back the guns!" he said.
They were limbered up, and went off rapidly.
At the same moment Colonel Pate appeared, his men obstinately
contesting every foot of ground as they fell back toward the Telegraph
road, where a deep cut promised them advantage.
Colonel Pate was a tall, fair-haired officer, with a ready smile, and a
cordial bearing. He and Stuart had bitterly quarrelled, and the general
had court-martialed the colonel. It is scarcely too much to say that
they had been deadly enemies.
For the first time now, since their collision, they met. But on this
day their enmity seemed dead. The two men about to die grasped each
"They are pressing you back, colonel!" exclaimed Stuart.
"Yes, general, I have but three skeleton squadrons! and you see their
"You are right. You have done all that any man could. Can you hold this
"I will try, general."
Their glances crossed. Never was Stuart's face kinder.
"If you say you will, you will do it! Hold this position to the last,
"I'll hold it until I die, general."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
With a pressure of the hand they parted.
Fifteen minutes afterward, Pate was dead. Attacked at once in front and
on both flanks in the road, his little force had been cut to pieces. He
fell with three of his captains, and his handful were scattered.
Stuart witnessed all, and his eye grew fiery.
"Pate has died the death of a hero!" he exclaimed.
[Footnote 1: His words.]
"Order Wickham to dismount his brigade, and attack on the right!" he
added to Lieutenant Garnett, aid-de-camp. Twenty minutes afterward,
Wickham's men were seen advancing, and driving the enemy before them.
This relieved the left, and Wickham continued to push on until he
struck up against a heavy line behind rail breastworks in the woods.
He then fell back, and each side remained motionless, awaiting the
movement of the other.
Such was the preface to the real battle of Yellow Tavern,--the species
of demonstration which preluded the furious grapple.
Stuart's melancholy had all vanished. He was in splendid spirits. He
hastened back his artillery to the point from which it had been driven,
and soon its defiant roar was heard rising above the woods.
At the same moment a courier galloped up.
"A dispatch from Gordon, general."
Stuart took it and read it with high good humor.
"Gordon has had a handsome little affair this morning," he said; "he
has whipped them."
And looking toward the northwest--
"I wish Gordon was here," he said.
[Footnote 1: His words.]
The guns continued to roar, and the enemy had not again advanced. It
was nearly four o'clock. Night approached.
But the great blow was coming.
Stuart was sitting his horse near the guns, with Breathed beside him.
Suddenly the edge of the woods on the Mountain road swarmed with blue
horsemen. As they appeared, the long lines of sabres darted from the
scabbards; then they rushed like a hurricane toward the guns.
The attack was so sudden and overpowering, that nothing could stand
before it. For a short time the men fought desperately, crossing
sabres and using their pistols. But the enemy's numbers were too great.
The left was driven back. With triumphant cheers, the Federal troopers
pressed upon them to drive them completely from the field.
Suddenly, as the men fell back, Stuart appeared, with drawn sabre,
among them, calling upon them to rally. His voice rose above the fire,
and a wild cheer greeted him.
The men rallied, the enemy were met again, sabre to sabre, and the
field became a scene of the most desperate conflict.
Stuart led every charge. I shall never forget the appearance which he
presented at that moment; with one hand he controlled his restive
horse, with the other he grasped his sabre; in his cheeks burned the
hot blood of the soldier.
"Breathed!" he exclaimed.
"Take command of all the mounted men in the road, and hold it against
whatever may come! If this road is lost, we are gone!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
Breathed darted to the head of the men and shouted:--
His sword flashed lightning, and digging the spur into his horse, he
darted ahead of the column, disappearing in the middle of a swarm of
A superb sight followed. Breathed was seen in the midst of the Federal
cavalry defending himself, with pistol and sabre, against the blows
which were aimed at him on every side.
He cut one officer out of the saddle; killed a lieutenant with a pistol
ball; was shot slightly in the side, and a sabre stroke laid open his
head. But five minutes afterward he was seen to clear a path with his
sabre, and reappear, streaming with blood.
[Footnote: This incident, like all here related as attending this
battle, is rigidly true.]
The momentary repulse effected nothing. The enemy re-formed their line,
and again charged the guns, which were pouring a heavy fire upon them.
As they rushed forward, the hoofs of their horses shook the ground. A
deafening cheer arose from the blue line.
Stuart was looking at them, and spurred out in front of the guns. His
eyes flashed, and, taking off his brown felt hat, he waved it and
Then he wheeled to take command of a column of Lomax's men, coming to
meet the charge.
They were too late. In a moment the enemy were trampling among the
guns. All but one were captured, and that piece was saved only by the
terror of the drivers. They lashed their horses into a gallop, and
rushed toward the Chickahominy, followed by the cannoneers who were
cursing them, and shouting:--
"For God's sake, boys, let's go back! They've got Breathed! Let's go
back to him!"
[Footnote 1: Their words.]
That terror of the drivers, which the cannoneers cursed so bitterly,
ended all. The gun, whirling on at wild speed, suddenly struck against
the head of the column advancing to meet the enemy. A war-engine hurled
against it could not have more effectually broken it. Before it could
re-form the enemy had struck it, forced it back; and then the whole
Federal force of cavalry was hurled upon Stuart.
His right, where Fitz Lee commanded in person, was giving back. His
left was broken and driven. The day was evidently lost; and Stuart,
with a sort of desperation, rushed into the midst of the enemy, calling
upon his men to rally, and firing his pistol in the faces of the
Suddenly, one of them darted past him toward the rear, and as he did
so, placed his pistol nearly on Stuart's body, and fired.
As the man disappeared in the smoke, Stuart's hand went quickly to his
side, he reeled in the saddle, and would have fallen had not Captain
Dorsay, of the First Virginia Cavalry, caught him in his arms.
The bullet had passed through his side into the stomach, and wounded
him mortally. In its passage, it just grazed a small Bible in his
pocket. The Bible was the gift of his mother--but the Almighty had
decreed that it should not turn the fatal bullet.
Stuart's immense vitality sustained him for a moment. Pale, and
tottering in the saddle, he still surveyed the field, and called on the
men to rally.
"Go back," he exclaimed, "and do your duty, as I have done mine! And
our country will be safe!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
A moment afterward he called out again to the men passing him:--
"Go back! go back! I'd rather die than be whipped!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
The old lightning flashed from his eyes as he spoke. Then a mist passed
over them; his head sank upon his breast; and, still supported in the
saddle, he was led through the woods toward the Chickahominy.
Suddenly, Fitzhugh Lee, who had been stubbornly fighting on the right,
galloped up, and accosted Stuart. His face was flushed, his eyes moist.
"You are wounded!" he exclaimed.
"Badly," Stuart replied, "but look out, Fitz! Yonder they come!"
A glance showed all. In the midst of a wild uproar of clashing sabres,
quick shots, and resounding cries, the Federal cavalry were rushing
forward to overwhelm the disordered lines.
Stuart's eye flashed for the last time. Turning to General Fitzhugh
Lee, he exclaimed in a full, sonorous voice:--
"Go ahead, Fitz, old fellow! I know you will do what is right!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
This was the last order he ever gave upon the field. As he spoke, his
head sank, his eyes closed, and he was borne toward the rear.
There was scarcely time to save him from capture. His wound seemed to
have been the signal for his lines to break. They had now given way
everywhere--the enemy were pressing them with loud shouts. Fighting
with stubborn desperation, they fell back toward the Chickahominy,
which they crossed, hotly pressed by the victorious enemy.
Stuart had been placed in an ambulance and borne across the stream,
where Dr. Randolph and Dr. Fontaine made a brief examination of his
wound. It was plainly mortal--but he was hastily driven, by way of
Mechanicsville, into Richmond.
His hard fighting had saved the city. When Sheridan attacked, he was
But the capital was dearly purchased. Twenty-four hours afterward
Stuart was dead.
[Illustration: DEATH OF STUART]
The end of the great cavalier had been as serene as his life was
stormy. His death was that of the Christian warrior, who bows to the
will of God, and accepts whatever His loving hand decrees for him.
He asked repeatedly that his favorite hymns should be sung for him; and
when President Davis visited him, and asked:--
"General, how do you feel?"
"Easy, but willing to die," he said, "if God and my country think I
have fulfilled my destiny, and done my duty."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
As night came, he requested his physician to inform him if he thought
he would live till morning. The physician replied that his death was
rapidly approaching, when he faintly bowed his head, and murmured:--
"I am resigned, if it be God's will. I should like to see my wife, but
God's will be done."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
When the proposed attack upon Sheridan, near Mechanicsville, was spoken
of in his presence, he said:--
"God grant that it may be successful. I wish I could be there."*
Turning his face toward the pillow, he added, with tears in his eyes,
"but I must prepare for another world."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
Feeling now that his end was near, he made his last dispositions.
"You will find in my hat," he said to a member of his staff, "a little
Confederate flag, which a lady of Columbia, South Carolina, sent me,
requesting that I would wear it on my horse in battle, and return it to
her. Send it to her."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
He gave then the name of the lady, and added:--
"My spurs--those always worn in battle--I promised to give to Mrs. Lily
Lee, at Shepherdstown. My sabre I leave to my son."
His horses and equipments were then given to his staff--his papers
directed to be sent to his wife.
A prayer was then offered by the minister at his bedside: his lips
moved as he repeated the words. As the prayer ended he murmured:--
"I am going fast now--I am resigned. God's will be done!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
As the words escaped from his lips, he expired.
BEHIND THE SCENES.
WHAT I DID NOT SEE.
I was not at Stuart's bedside when he died. While aiding the rest to
hold him in the saddle, I had been shot through the shoulder; and
twenty-four hours afterward I lay, at the house of a friend in
Richmond, turning and tossing with fever.
In my delirium I heard a mournful tolling of bells. It was many days,
however, before I knew that they were tolling for Stuart.
When, at last, after more than a month's confinement to my bed, I rose,
and began to totter about,--pale, faint, and weak, but convalescent--my
great loss, for the first time, struck me in all its force.
Where should I turn now--and whither should I go? Jackson dead at
Chancellorsville--Stuart at Yellow Tavern--thenceforth I seemed to have
lost my support, to grope and totter in darkness, without a guide!
These two kings of battle had gone down in the storm, and, like the
Knight of Arthur, I looked around me, with vacant and inquiring eyes,
asking whither I was now to direct my steps, and what work I should
work in the coming years. Jackson! Stuart!--who could replace them?
They had loved and trusted me--their head-quarters had been my home.
Now, when they disappeared, I had no friends, no home; and an
inexpressible sense of loss descended upon me, as a dark cloud descends
and obscures a landscape, smiling and full of sunshine.
Another woe had come to me. My father was dead. The war had snapped the
chords of that stout heart as it snapped the chords of thousands, and
the illustrious head of the house had descended into the tomb. From
this double blow I scarcely had strength to rise. For weeks I remained
in a sort of dumb stupor; and was only aroused from it by the necessity
of looking after my family affairs.
As soon as I had strength to mount my horse, I rode to Eagle's Nest. A
good aunt had come and installed herself as the friend and protector of
my little Annie; and with the arms of my young sister around me, I wept
for my father.
I remained at Eagle's Nest more than two months. The long ride had made
the wound in my shoulder reopen, and I was again stretched upon a bed
of illness, from which, at one time, I thought I should not rise. More
than once I made a narrow escape from scouting parties of Federal
cavalry in the neighborhood; and on one occasion, an officer entered my
chamber, but left me unmolested, under the impression that I was too
ill to live.
It was late in the month of August before I rose from my bed again, and
set out on my return.
In those three months and a half--counting from the time I left
Spottsylvania with Stuart--great events had happened in Virginia.
Grant's hammer and Lee's rapier had been clashing day and night. Hill
and valley, mountain and lowland--Virginia and Maryland--had thundered.
General Grant had hastened forward from the Wilderness, only to find
Lee confronting him behind breastworks at Spottsylvania Court-House.
The Confederate commander had taken up a defensive position on the line
of the Po; and for more than two weeks Grant threw his masses against
the works of his adversary, in desperate attempts to break through.
On the 12th of May, at daylight, he nearly succeeded. "The Horse Shoe"
salient was charged in the dusk of morning; the Southerners were
surprised, and bayoneted in the trenches; the works carried; the
artillery captured; and a large number of prisoners fell into the hands
of the enemy.
The blow was heavy, but General Grant derived little advantage from it.
Lee rallied his troops; formed a new line; and repulsed every assault
made on it, throughout the entire day. When night fell, Grant had not
advanced further; Lee's position was stronger than before, and plainly
For many days, Grant was occupied in reconnoitring and feeling his
adversary. At the end of a week, the hope of breaking Lee's line was
seen to be desperate.
Then commenced the second great "movement by the left flank" toward
Grant disappeared one morning, and hastened toward Hanover Junction.
When he arrived, Lee was there in his front, ready to receive him. And
the new position was stronger, if any thing, than that of
Spottsylvania. Grant felt it; abandoned the attempt to carry it, at
once; and again moved, on his swift and stealthy way, by the left flank
toward Richmond. Crossing the Pamunkey at Hanovertown, he made straight
for the capital; but reaching the Tottapotomoi, he found Lee again
Then the days and nights thundered, as they had been thundering since
the day when Grant crossed the Rapidan. Lee could not be driven, and
the Federal movement by the left flank began again.
Grant made for Cold Harbor, and massed his army to burst through the
Chickahominy, and seize Richmond. The huge engine began to move at
daylight, on the third of June. Half an hour afterward, 13,000 of
General Grant's forces were dead or wounded. He was repulsed and driven
back. His whole loss, from the moment of crossing the Rapidan, had been
about 60,000 men.
That ended all hopes of forcing the lines of the Chickahominy. The
Federal commander gave up the attempt in despair, and resumed his
Wandering-Jew march. Moving still by the left flank, he hastened to
cross James River and advance on Petersburg. But Lee was again too
rapid for him. In the works south of the Appomattox the gray infantry,
under the brave General Wise, confronted the enemy. They repulsed every
assault, and Grant sat down to lay siege to Richmond from the distance
of thirty miles.
Such had been the great campaign of the summer of 1864 in Virginia. Lee
had everywhere stood at bay, and repulsed every attack: he had also
struck in return a great aggressive blow, in Maryland.
At Cold Harbor, early in June, news had arrived that a Federal column,
under Hunter, was advancing on Lynchburg. A force was sent to intercept
Hunter, under the command of Early. That hard fighter crossed the
mountains; attacked his adversary; drove him beyond the Alleghanies;
and then, returning on his steps, hurried down the Shenandoah Valley
toward the Potomac, driving every thing before him. Once at the
Potomac, he hastened to cross into Maryland. Once in Maryland, Early
advanced, without loss of time, upon Washington. At Monocacy he met and
defeated General Wallace; pressed after him toward Washington; and
reaching the outer works, advanced his lines to the assault. But he
had but a handful, after the long and prostrating march. His numbers
were wholly inadequate to storm the defences of the capital. Grant had
sent forward, in haste, two army corps to defend the city, and Early
was compelled to retreat across the Potomac to the Shenandoah Valley,
with the sole satisfaction of reflecting that he had given the enemy a
great "scare," and had flaunted the red-cross flag in front of the
ramparts of Washington.
I have not space to describe the cavalry movements of the summer.
Hampton had succeeded Stuart in command of all the cavalry, and the
country soon heard the ring of his heavy blows.
In June, Sheridan was sent to capture Gordonsville and Charlottesville;
but Hampton checked and defeated him in a fierce action near
Trevillian's, and in another at Charlottesville; pursued him to the
White House; hurried him on to James River; and Sheridan crossed that
stream on pontoons, glad, no doubt, to get back to the blue infantry.
Hampton crossed also; penetrated to Dinwiddie; defeated the enemy at
Sappony church, capturing their men and artillery--everywhere they had
been routed, with a total loss of more than 2,000 prisoners.
Such were the events which had taken place during my tedious illness.
They came to me only in vague rumors, or by means of chance newspapers
sent by my neighbors. At last, however, I rose from my sick couch, and
embracing my aunt and sister, who were to remain together at Eagle's
Nest, set out on my return.
Stuart's staff were all scattered, and seeking new positions. I was one
of them, and I again asked myself more gloomily than at first, "Where
shall I go?" The gentlemen of the red tape at Richmond would doubtless
inform me, however; and riding on steadily, with a keen look out for
scouting parties, I at last reached the city.
On the next day I filed my application in the war office, to be
assigned to duty.
A week afterward I had not heard from it.
Messieurs, the red tapists, were evidently not in the least bit of a
hurry--and hat in hand I awaited their good pleasure.
THE "DOOMED CITY."
Richmond presented a singular spectacle in that summer of 1864.
It was styled "the doomed city," by our friends over the border, and in
truth there was something gloomy and tragic in its appearance--in the
very atmosphere surrounding it.
On every countenance you could read anxiety, poverty, the wasting effect
of the terrible suffering and suspense of the epoch. All things combined
to deepen the colors of the sombre picture. Hope long deferred had
sickened the stoutest hearts. Men were nervous, anxious, burnt up by the
hot fever of war. Provisions of every description were sold at enormous
prices. Fathers of families could scarcely procure the plainest food for
their wives and children. The streets were dotted with poor widows,
bereaved sisters, weeping mothers, and pale daughters, whose black
dresses told the story of their loss to all eyes. Hunger clutched at the
stomach; agony tore the heart. Soldiers, pale and tottering from their
wounds, staggered by. Cannon rattled through the streets. Couriers
dashed backward and forward from the telegraph office to the war office.
The poor starved--the rich scarcely fared any better. Black hair had
become white. Stalwart frames were bent and shrunken. Spies and secret
emissaries lurked, and looked at you sidewise. Forestallers crowded the
markets. Bread was doled out by the ounce. Confederate money by the
bushel. Gold was hoarded and buried. Cowards shrunk and began to
whisper--"the flesh pots! the flesh pots! they were better!" Society was
uprooted from its foundations. Strange characters were thrown up. The
scum had come to the top, and bore itself bravely in the sunshine. The
whole social fabric seemed warped and wrenched from its base; and in the
midst of this chaos of starving women, feverish men, spies,
extortioners, blockade-runners,--over the "doomed city," day and night,
rolled the thunder of the cannon, telling that Grant and Lee were still
holding their high debate at Petersburg.
Such was Richmond at the end of summer in 1864. Society was approaching
one of those epochs, when all things appear unreal, monstrous, gliding
toward some great catastrophe. All rascaldom was rampant. The
night-birds had come forth. Vice stalked, and flaunted its feathers in
the light of day. Chaos seemed coming, and with it all the powers of
That spectacle was singular to a soldier, bred in camps, and
habituated, now, for some years, to the breezy airs of "the field." I
looked on with astonishment. The whole drama seemed unreal--the
characters mere players. Who was A, and B, and what did C do for a
living? You knew not, but they bowed, and smiled, and were charming.
They grasped your hand, offered you cigars, invited you to supper--they
wanted nothing. And they found no difficulty in procuring guests. I was
no better than the rest, reader--there is an honest confession--and,
looking back now, I can see that I knew, and dined or supped with some
queer characters in those days.
Shall I give you a brief sketch of one of these worthies and his
surroundings? It will afford some idea of the strange contrasts then
presented in the "doomed" and starving city.
I DINE WITH MR. BLOCQUE.
He was a prominent personage at that time--my friend (in a
parliamentary sense at least) Mr. Blocque.
He was a charming little fellow, acquainted with everybody--an
"employee of government," but employed to do heaven knows what; and
while others were starving, Mr. Blocque was as plump as a partridge. He
wore the snowiest shirt bosoms, glittering with diamond studs; the
finest broadcloth coats; the most brilliant patent leather shoes; and
his fat little hands sparkled with costly rings. He was constantly
smiling in a manner that was delightful to behold; hopped about and
chirped like a sparrow or tomtit; and was the soul of good humor and
enjoyment. There was no resisting his charms; he conquered you in five
minutes. When he linked his arm in yours, and chirped, "My dear friend,
come and dine with me--at five o'clock precisely--I shall certainly
expect you!" it was impossible to refuse the small gentleman's
invitation. Perhaps you asked yourself, "Who is my dear friend, Mr.
Blocque--how does he live so well, and wear broadcloth and fine linen?"
But the next moment you smiled, shrugged your shoulders, elevated your
eye-brows, and--went to dine with him.
I was like all the world, and at five o'clock one evening was shown
into Mr. Blocque's elegant residence on Shockoe Hill, by a servant in
white gloves, who bowed low, as he ushered me in. Mr. Blocque hastened
to receive me, with his most charming smile; I was introduced to the
guests, who had all arrived; and ten minutes afterward the folding
doors opened, revealing a superb banquet--for the word "dinner" would
be too common-place. The table was one mass of silver. Waxlights, in
candelabra, were already lit; and a host of servants waited, silent and
respectful, behind every chair.
The guests were nearly a dozen in number, and more than one prominent
"government official" honored Mr. Blocque's repast. I had been
introduced among the rest to Mr. Torpedo, member of Congress, and
bitter foe of President Davis; Mr. Croker, who had made an enormous
fortune by buying up, and hoarding in garrets and cellars, flour,
bacon, coffee, sugar, and other necessaries; and Colonel Desperade, a
tall and warlike officer in a splendid uniform, who had never been in
the army, but intended to report for duty, it was supposed, as soon as
he was made brigadier-general.
The dinner was excellent. The table literally groaned with every
delicacy. Everywhere you saw canvass-back ducks, grouse, salmon, pate
de foie gras, oysters; the champagne, was really superb; the Madeira
and sherry beyond praise; and the cigars excellent Havanas, which at
that time were rarely seen, and cost fabulous prices. Think, old army
comrades, starving on a quarter of a pound of rancid bacon during that
summer of '64--think of that magical bill of fare, that array of
Who was the magician who had evoked all this by a wave of his wand? How
could smiling Mr. Blocque roll in luxury thus, when everybody else was
starving? How could my host wear broadcloth, and drink champagne and
smoke Havanas, when ragged clothing, musty bacon, and new
apple-abomination, were the order of the day with all others?
These questions puzzled me extremely; but there was the magician before
us, smiling in the most friendly manner, and pressing his rich wines on
his guests, as they sat around the polished mahogany smoking their
cigars. Elegantly clad servants hovered noiselessly behind the
convives--the wine circulated--the fragrant smoke rose--the
conversation became general--and all was animation.
"No, sir!" says Mr. Torpedo, puffing fiercely at his cigar, "the
President never will assign Johnston to command again, sir! You call
Mr. Davis 'pig-headed,' Mr. Croker--you are wrong, sir! You do
injustice to the pigs, sir! Pigs are not insane, sir!"
And Mr. Torpedo sucks at his cigar, as though he were a vampire,
extracting the blood of his victim.
Mr. Croker sips his wine; he is large and portly; ruddy and pompous;
his watch seals jingle; and he rounds his periods with the air of a
millionaire, who is accustomed to be listened to with deference.
"You are right, my dear, sir," says Mr. Croker, clearing his throat.
"The government has assuredly been administered, from its very
inception, in a manner which the most enthusiastic adherents of the
Executive will scarcely venture to characterize as either judicious or
constitutional. In the year which has just elapsed, things have been
managed in a manner which must excite universal reprobation. Even the
alleged performances of the army are problematical, and--"
"I beg your pardon, sir," says Colonel Desperade, twirling his mustache
in a warlike manner; "do I understand you to call in question the nerve
of our brave soldiers, or the generalship of our great commander?"
"I do, sir," says Mr. Croker, staring haughtily at the speaker. "I am
not of those enthusiasts who consider General Lee a great soldier. He
has succeeded in defensive campaigns, but is deficient in genius--and I
will add, sir, as you seem to be surprised at my remarks, sir, that in
my opinion the Southern Confederacy will be overwhelmed, sir, and the
South compelled to return to the Union, sir!"
"Upon what do you ground that extraordinary assumption, may I ask,
"On common sense and experience, sir," returns Mr. Croker, severely;
"look at the currency--debased until the dollar is merely a piece of
paper. Look at prices--coffee, twenty dollars a pound, and sugar the
same. Look at the army starving--the people losing heart--and strong,
able-bodied men," adds Mr. Croker, looking at Colonel Desperade,
"lurking about the cities, and keeping out of the way of bullets."
The mustached warrior looks ferocious--his eyes dart flame.
"And who causes the high prices, sir? Who makes the money a rag? I
answer--the forestallers and engrossers--do you know any, sir?"
"I do not, sir!"
"That is singular!" And Colonel Desperade twirls his mustache
satirically--looking at the pompous Mr. Croker in a manner which makes
that worthy turn scarlet.
I was laughing to myself quietly, and listening for the expected
outbreak, when Mr. Blocque interposed with his winning voice.
"What are you discussing, gentlemen?" he said, with his charming smile.
"But first tell me your opinion of this Madeira and those cigars. My
agent writes me word that he used every exertion to procure the best.
Still, I am not entirely pleased with either the wine or brand of
cigars, and hope you will excuse them. Were you speaking of our great
President, Mr. Torpedo? And you, Mr. Croker--I think you were referring
to the present state of affairs. They appear to me more hopeful than at
any previous time, and his Excellency, President Davis, is guiding the
helm of state with extraordinary courage and good judgment. I know some
of you differ with me in these views, my friends. But let us not be
censorious--let us look on the bright side. The troubles of the country
are great, and we of the South are suffering every privation--but we
must bear up, gentlemen; we must keep brave hearts, and endure all
things. Let us live on dry bread if it comes to that, and bravely fight
to the last! Let us cheerfully endure hardships, and oppose the enemy
at all points. Our present troubles and privations will soon come to an
end--we shall again be surrounded by the comforts and luxuries of
life--and generations now unborn will bless our names, and pity our
sufferings in these days that try men's souls!"
Mr. Blocque ceased, and smoothing down his snowy shirt bosom, pushed
the wine. At the same moment, an alabaster clock on the marble
mantelpiece struck seven.
"So late?" said Colonel Desperade. "I have an appointment at the war
Mr. Blocque drew out a magnificent gold watch.
"The clock is fast," he said, "keep your seats, gentlemen,--unless you
fancy going to the theatre. My private box is at your disposal, and
carriages will be ready in a few minutes."
As the charming little gentleman spoke, he led the way back to the
drawing-room--the folding doors flanked by silent and respectful
servants as the guests passed in.
In five minutes, coffee and liqueurs were served; both were superb, the
white sugar sparkled like crystal in the silver dish, and the cream in
the solid jug was yellow and as thick as a syrup.
"Shall it be the theatre, gentlemen?" said Mr. Blocque, with winning
smiles. "We can amuse ourselves with cards for an hour, as the curtain
does not rise before eight."
And he pointed to a silver basket on the centre table of carved walnut,
surmounted by a slab of variegated marble. I looked, and saw the
crowning wonder. The silver basket contained piles of gold coin and
greenbacks! Not a trace of a Confederate note was visible in the mass!
Packs of fresh cards were brought quickly by a servant, on a silver
waiter; the guests helped themselves to the coin and bank notes; in ten
minutes they were playing furiously.
As I do not play, I rose and took my leave. Mr. Blocque accompanied me
to the door, smiling sweetly to the last.
"Come again very soon, my dear colonel," he said, squeezing my hand,
"my poor house, and all in it, is at your service at all times!"
I thanked my host, shook hands, and went out into the
darkness,--determined never to return.
I had had an excellent dinner, and, physically, had never felt better.
Morally, I must say, I felt contaminated, for, unfortunately, I had
begun to think of Lee's hungry soldiers, lying in rags, in the
"Eight o'clock! All is well!" came from the sentinel, as I passed by
JOHN M. DANIEL.
On the day after this scene, a trifling matter of business led me to
call on John M. Daniel, editor of the _Examiner_.
The career of this singular personage had been as remarkable as his
character. He was not a stranger to me. I had known him in 1849 or '50,
when I accompanied my father on a visit to Richmond, and I still recall
the striking appearance of the individual at that time. He had come, a
poor boy of gentle birth, from the bleak hills of Stafford, to the city
of Richmond, to seek his fortune, and, finding nothing better to do,
had accepted the position of librarian to the Richmond library, waiting
for something to "turn up," and ready to grasp it. About the same time,
that experienced journalist, the late B.M. De Witt, had founded the
_Examiner_. He, no doubt, saw the eminent talents of the youth from
Stafford, and the result had been an invitation to assist in the
editorial department of the journal.
Going to the Richmond library, to procure for my father some volume for
reference, I had made the acquaintance of the youthful journalist. At
the first glance, I felt that I was in the presence of an original
character. His labors on the _Examiner_ had just commenced. He was
seated, half-reclining, in an arm-chair, surrounded by "exchanges,"
from which he clipped paragraphs, throwing the papers, as soon as he
had done so, in a pile upon the floor. His black eyes, long black hair,
brushed behind the ears, and thin, sallow cheeks, were not agreeable;
but they made up a striking physiognomy. The black eyes glittered with
a sullen fire; the thin lips were wreathed with a sardonic smile; and I
was informed that the youth lived the life of a _solitaire_,
voluntarily absenting himself from society, to give his days and nights
to exhausting study.
He read every thing, it was said--history, poetry, political economy,
and theology. Swift was said to be his literary divinity, and Rabelais
was at his elbow always. Poor, uneducated, ignorant of nearly every
thing, he was educating himself for the future--sharpening, by
attrition with the strongest minds in all literatures, ancient and
modern, that trenchant weapon which afterward flashed its superb
lightnings in the heated atmosphere of the great epoch in which he
Bitter, misanthropic, solitary; burning the midnight lamp, instead of
moving among his fellows in the sunshine, he yet possessed hardy
virtues and a high pride of gentleman. He hated the world at large, it
was said, but loved his few friends with an ardor which shrank at
nothing. One of them owed a sum of money--and Daniel went on foot,
twenty-two miles, to Petersburg, paid it, and returned in the same
manner. Afterward he went in person to Charlottesville, to purchase a
house for the use of another friend of limited means. For his friends
he was thus willing to sacrifice his convenience and his means, without
thought of return. All who were not his friends, he is said to have
hated or despised. An acquaintance was in his room one day, and showed
him a valuable pen-knife. Daniel admired it, and the gentleman said
"You may have it, if you like it." Daniel turned upon him, scowled at
him, his lip curled, and he replied, "What do you expect me to do for
His other virtues were self-denial, and a proud independence. At the
library, he lived on bread and tea--often making the tea himself. Too
poor to possess a chamber, he slept on a lounge in the public room. He
would owe no man any thing, asked no favors, and fawned on nobody. He
would fight his own fight, make his own way; with the intellect heaven
had sent him, carve out his own future, unassisted. The sallow youth,
groaning under dyspepsia, with scarce a friend, and nothing but his
brain, promised himself that he would one day rise from his low estate,
and wield the thunderbolts of power, as one born to grasp and hurl
He was not mistaken, and did not overestimate his powers. When I saw
him in 1849 or '50, he was obscurest of the obscure. Two or three years
afterward he had made the _Examiner_ one of the great powers of the
political world, and was living in a palace at Turin, minister to
Sardinia. He had achieved this success in life by the sheer force of
his character; by the vigor and recklessness of his pen, and the
intensity of his invective. Commencing his editorial career,
apparently, with the theory that, in order to rise into notice, he must
spare nothing and no one, he had entered the arena of partisan politics
like a full armed gladiator; and soon the whole country resounded with
the blows which he struck. Bitter personality is a feeble phrase to
describe the animus of the writer in those days. There was something
incredibly exasperating in his comments on political opponents. He
flayed and roasted them alive. It was like thrusting a blazing torch
into the raw flesh of his victims. Nor was it simple "abuse." The
satirist was too intelligent to rely upon that. It was his scorching
wit which made opponents shrink. His scalpel divided the arteries, and
touched the vitals of the living subject. Personal peculiarities were
satirized with unfailing acumen. The readers of the _Examiner_, in
those days, will still recall the tremendous flaying which he
administered to his adversaries. It may almost be said, that when the
remorseless editor had finished with these gentlemen, there was
"nothing of them left"--what lay before him was a bleeding and mortally
wounded victim. And what was worse, all the world was laughing. Those
who looked with utter disapproval upon his ferocious course, were still
unable to resist the influence of his mordant humor. They denounced the
_Examiner_ without stint, but they subscribed to it, and read it every
morning. "Have you seen the _Examiner_ to-day?" asked the friend whom
you met on the street. "John M. Daniel is down on Blank!" said A to B,
rubbing his hands and laughing. Blank may have been the personal
acquaintance and friend of Mr. A, but there was no resisting the
cartoon of him, traced by the pen of the satirist! The portrait might
be a caricature, but it was a terrible likeness! The long nose was very
long; the round shoulders, very round; the cast in the eye, a frightful
squint; but the individual was unmistakable. The bitter humor of the
artist had caught and embodied every weakness. Thenceforth, the
unfortunate adversary went on his way before all eyes, the mark of
suppressed ridicule and laughing whispers. Whether you approved or
disapproved, you read those tremendous satires. Not to see the
_Examiner_ in those days was to miss a part of the history of the
times. The whole political world felt the presence of a _power_ in
journalism. Into all the recesses of the body politic, those shafts of
ridicule or denunciation penetrated. That venomous invective pierced
the hardest panoply. For the first time in American journalism, the
world saw the full force of ridicule; and tasted a bitterness of
invective unknown since the days of Swift.
Out of these personal attacks grew numerous duels. The butts of the
editor's ridicule sent him defiances, and he was engaged in several
affairs, which, however, resulted in nothing, or nearly nothing, as I
believe he was wounded only once. They did not induce him to change his
course. He seemed to have marked out his career in cold blood, and was
plainly resolved to adhere to his programme--to write himself into
power. In this he fully succeeded. By dint of slashing and flaying, he
attracted the attention of all. Then his vigorous and masculine
intellect riveted the spell. Hated, feared, admired, publicly
stigmatized as one who "ruled Virginia with a rod of iron," he had
reached his aim; and soon the material results of success came. The
director of that great political engine, the Richmond _Examiner_, found
no difficulty in securing the position which he desired; and he
received the appointment of minister to Sardinia, which he accepted,
selling his newspaper, but reserving the right to resume editorial