Major R--‘s little private scout.
Nothing is more curious than the manner in which a sudden and unexpected attack imposes upon the recipients thereof; and it is safe to say that none but the best troops, trained and disciplined to stand firm under all contingencies, can be counted on in such moments of emergency.
The following incident will prove the truth of this assertion.
It is not related “for the greater glory” of the Southern
arms, so much as to present a curious illustration of the effect upon the human mind of a sudden surprise.
A word first of the doughty sabreur
who figured as hero on the occasion, my friend, Major
R---, of the C. S. A.
is stout, rosy, of a portly figure, and from his appearance you would not take him for a very active or dangerous personage.
But he is both.
No man delights more in movement, adventure, and combat.
No man sits a horse with more of the true cavalry ease.
You may see from the manner in which he handles his sabre that he is master of that weapon; and in the charge he is a perfect thunderbolt.
He fingers his pistol and makes the barrels revolve with admirable grace; his salute with the sabre is simply perfection; his air, as he listens to an order from his superior officer, says plainly, “All I wish is to know what you want me to do, General — if it can be done it will be done.”
This air does not deceive.
It is well known to the Major
friends that his motto is, “Neck or nothing.”
At Mine Run
, when General Meade
confronted the Southern
lines, the worthy said to me, “A soldier's duty is to obey his orders; and if General Stuart
told me to charge the Yankee
army by myself, I would do it. He
would be responsible.”
It will be seen from the above sketch of the gallant Major
, that he is a thorough soldier.
In fact he loves his profession, and is not satisfied with performing routine duty.
He is fond of volunteering on forlorn hopes, and in desperate emergencieswhen he cannot get at the blue-coats for any length of time-he pines.
This mood came to him in the fall of 1862.
Quiet had reigned along the lines so long, that he grew melancholy.
His appetite did not fail, as far as his friends could perceive, but something obviously rested on his mind.
He was rusting, and was conscious of the process.
“Why don't they come out and fight?”
seemed to ask with his calm, sad eyes.
They were in Virginia
for the purpose of “crushing the rebellion,” --why didn't they set about the work?
These questions meeting with no satisfactory response, Major
R— determined himself to take the initiative, and see if he could not bring on a little fight, all on his private account.
He would thus relieve his bosom of the perilous stuff which preyed upon his heart.
It had, indeed, become absolutely necessary to his peace of mind to come into collision with his friends across the way, and he set about devising the best plan for arriving at his object.
The Southern cavalry to which the Major
was attached, at that time occupied the county of Culpeper
, and picketed along the Rappahannock
So did the enemy's horsemen, and the Federal
pickets were stationed on the southern bank at every ford.
This was the case at Warrenton Springs, where a bridge, afterwards destroyed, spanned the Rappahannock
; and at this point Major
R— determined to bring on the little affair which had become so necessary to his happiness.
He intended to combine pleasure with business by visiting some young ladies at a hospitable mansion not far from the bridge; and having thus
laid out his programme he proceeded to execute it, and “all alone by himself” attack the picket guard of some twenty of the enemy.
Behold the Major
now in warlike panoply — that is to say, in fine gray dress coat with burnished buttons (for the eyes of Venus
after the conflict with Mars
); pistol carefully loaded, in holster on his right side; and sabre in excellent order, jingling against his top boots.
It was a saying of the worthy, that he “generally kept his arms in good order,” and on this occasion nothing was left to be desired.
His pistol revolved at the touch, with a clear ringing click; and you could see your face in his sabre blade.
Thus accoutred, and mounted on a good, active horse, he set off from Hazel river
, and making a detour around Jeffersonton
, came to an elevation in rear of Mr.
—‘s house, where he stopped to reconnoitre.
The Federal picket — of nineteen men, as he afterwards discovered — was at the bridge; and in the yard of the mansion were two videttes, with their horses tied to the trees under which they were lying.
Whether he could succeed in “driving in” the whole picket was problematical, but the videttes were pretty sure game.
He would either run them off or capture them.
With the Major
execution followed conception rapidly.
Pushing boldly over the crest from behind which he had made his reconnoissance, he charged across the field at a thundering gallop, whirling his burnished sabre around his head, yelling in a manner that was truly awful; and shouting as he rode to a supposititious squadron:
Charge! charge! cut down every man!
So portentous was the reverberating shout of onset from the lips of the Major
, that the videttes started to their feet, and clutched the bridles of their horses instantly.
As the warlike figure, surrounded by the brilliant lightning of the flashing sabre, swept on, the videttes probably saw at least a squadron of “Rebel cavalry” in the dust which rose behind; and hastily mounting, darted away, pursued by the triumphant Major
, whose yells were now more tremendous than ever.
Across the broad field, past the house, on toward the bridge,
galloped the furious assailant, bent on striking terror to the enemy's hearts, and successfully completing his adventure.
Before him fled the frightened videttes-their movements accelerated by several balls, which issued from the Major
's pistol, and whistled by their ears.
On toward the bridge, and into the midst of the picket fled the videttes; and as the Major
's shouts, and vociferous orders to his cavalry to charge, and let no one escape, resounded nearer, the pickets, too, mounted in hot haste, and clattered across the bridge, pursued by the Major
's pistol shots.
In vain did the officer in charge of the picket-post shout to his men:
Halt! halt! Shoot down the rascal!
Shoot him down, I say!
There's only one of them!
His voice was unheard or his order unheeded.
The picket was composed of stuff less soldierly than their officer, and would not obey him. Before their vivid imaginations rose at least a squadron of Confederate cavalry, sweeping on to ride over them, sword in hand.
The result was that Major
R — in ten minutes had possession of the bridge, and sat his horse defiantly in the middle of it. He then amused himself by sending a few parting shots after the demoralized picket, and having performed this agreeable duty rode back to the house of Mr.
--, laughing low in his peculiar way; his breast completely lightened of the oppressive weight which had so long weighed upon it.
—‘s he met with a triumphant reception; was greeted with a perfect ovation.
The young ladies of the mansion were crazy almost with delight at the manner in which they had been delivered from the presence of their enemies; and when the hero of the occasion made his appearance they met him as women only can meet their deliverers — with smiles such as shine rarely for the poor “civilian.”
After all it is something to be a soldier.
The trade is hard, but the feminine eye has a peculiar brightness when it rests on the sons of Mars
, proverbially the favourite of Venus
was an old soldier, and in no hurry to depart.
He counted on the extent of the “scare” he had given the enemy,
and quietly enjoyed himself in the charming society of his hostesses.
He had once more become “excellent company.”
The smile had returned to his lips, the light to his eyes.
That melancholy which had made his friends uneasy had quite disappeared, and the Major
was “himself again” --that is to say, the gayest and most delightful of companions.
When, rising slowly and carelessly, he bade his friendly entertainers good-bye, he was again happy.
He came back to camp, smiling, amiable, the soul of sweetness and cheerfulness.
I saw him. He was absolutely radiant.
His eloquent eye beamed brightly; his countenance was charming; his movements energetic and elastic; the fullest satisfaction was apparent in every lineament of his face.
His gay and friendly smile seemed to say, “I went at nineteen of them; ran them off; held the bridge against them; had an excellent supper, a delightful talk — I am happy!”
Such was the gay little comedy which I heard from the family of Mr.
--, as I sat upon his porch and conversed with them one day. The narrative is precisely true in every particular, and has always impressed me as a curious illustration of the effect of “surprises” upon troops — of the enormous power exerted by the human imagination.