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Corporal Shabrach.

1. his opinion of General Lee.

Camp Quattlebum Rifles, Army of Northern Virginia, December 10, 1863.
When I left home, my dear boys, I promised to write to you whenever an opportunity occurred, and give you some of my views and opinions.

I have an opportunity to-morrow to send you this; and as the characters of great men are valuable guides to growing boys who are shaping their own, I will take this occasion to tell you something about the famous Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Lee.

I will first describe his appearance; for I have always observed that when we know how a great man looks, we take far more interest in his sayings and doings, for we have an accurate idea of the sort of person who is talking or acting. I remember reading once that Caesar, the celebrated Roman General, was a dandy in his youth — a sort of “fine gentleman” about Rome; and had lost all his hair, which he regretted greatly, and tried to conceal with the laurel crown he wore. Also, that when he conquered Gaul he was thin and pale, had frequent fainting fits, and yet was so resolute and determined that while he was riding on horseback, over mountains and through rivers, he would dictate dispatches to as many as seven secretaries at a time, who were carried in litters at his side. I also remember reading how the Emperor [354] Napoleon looked, and all about his old gray overcoat, his cocked hat, his habit of taking snuff from his waistcoat pocket, and his dark eyes, set in the swarthy face, and looking at you so keenly as he spoke to you. I was greatly helped, too, in my idea of General Washington-whom General Lee, to my thinking, greatly resembles-by finding that he was tall, muscular, and carried his head erect, repulsing with a simple look all meddling or impertinence, and impressing upon all around him, by his grave and noble manner, a conviction of the lofty elements of his soul. Knowing these facts about Caesar, Napoleon, and Washington, I noticed that I had a much better understanding of their careers, and indeed seemed to see them when they performed any celebrated action which was related in their biographies.

General Lee is now so justly famous that, although posterity will be sure to find out all about him, my grandchildren (if I have any) will be glad to hear how he appeared to the eyes of Corporal Shabrach, their grandfather, one of the humble soldiers of his army.

I have seen the General frequently, and he once spoke to me, so I can describe him accurately. He has passed middle age, and his hair is of an iron gray. He wears a beard and moustache, which are also gray, and give him a highly venerable appearance. He has been, and still is, an unusually handsome man, and would attract attention in a crowd from his face alone. Exposure to sun and wind has made his complexion of a ruddy, healthy tint, and from beneath his black felt hat a pair of eyes look at you with a clear, honest intentness, which gives you thorough confidence both in the ability and truthfulness of their owner. I have always observed that you can tell the character of a man by his eyes, and I would be willing to stake my farm and all I am worth upon the statement that there never was a person with such eyes as General Lee's who was not an honest man. As to his stature, it is tall, and his body is well knit. You would say he was strong and could bear much fatigue, without being heavy or robust. His bearing is erect, and when his head bends forward, as it sometimes does, it appears to stoop under the weight of some [355] great scheme he is concocting. His dress is very simple, consisting generally of an old gray coat, dark-blue pantaloons, a riding cape of the same colour; boots worn outside, and a black hat. Sometimes a large dark overcoat is worn over all. He seldom carries a sword. He rides fine horses, and is my model of an old Virginia Cavalier, who would rather be torn to pieces by shell and canister than give up any of his rights.

If I was asked to describe General Lee's ordinary appearance and attitude, either in the saddle, in front of the line-of-battle, or standing with his field-glass in his hand, reconnoitring the enemy keenly from beneath the gray eyebrows, I should say, in words I have met with in some book, that his attitude was one of supreme invincible repose. Here you see a man whom no anxieties can flurry, no reverses dismay. I have seen him thus a dozen times, on important occasions; and that, if nothing else, convinces me that he is, in the foundations of his character, a very great man. No man in public affairs now, to my thinking at least, is so fine a representative and so truthful a type of the great Virginia race of old times.

As to his character, everybody has had an opportunity of forming an opinion upon the subject-at least of his military character. Some persons, I know-Captain Quattlebum for instance, who is a man of no great brains himself, however, confidentially speaking-say that Lee is not a great general, and compares him to Napoleon, who, they say, won greater victories, and followed them up to better results. Such comparisons, to my thinking, are foolish. I am no great scholar, but I have read enough about Napoleon's times to know that they were very different from General Lee's. He, I mean Napoleon, was at the head of a French army, completely disciplined, and bent on “glory.” They wanted their general to fight on every occasion, and win more “glory.” If he didn't go on winning “glory” he was not the man for them. The consequence was that Napoleon, who was quite as fond of “glory” as his men, fought battles whenever he could get at the enemy, and as his armies were thoroughly disciplined, with splendid equipments, and plenty of provisions and ammunition, he was able to follow up [356] his successes, as he did at Marengo and Austerlitz, and get the full benefit of them. Lee is in a very different situation from Napoleon. This is an army of volunteers, who did not come into the field to gain “glory,” but to keep the Yankees from coming further South. They have no disposition to rebel and get rid of General Lee if he does not feed them on a dish of “glory” every few weeks. They are not as well organized as they ought to be, and are badly equipped, provisioned, and ammunitioned.

With such an army it is unreasonable to expect General Lee to fight as often and as desperately as Napoleon did, or to follow up his victories. He takes the view, I suppose, that he is Commander-in-Chief of the Confederate States in the field; that “glory” is a secondary matter; that worrying out the enemy is the best tactics for us, with our smaller number and superior material; and that no risks ought to be run with our army, which, once destroyed by an unlucky step, could not be replaced. Altogether, for the reasons stated above, I think General Lee is a better soldier for the place he occupies than Napoleon would be.

I can look back to many occasions where I think a different course from that which he pursued would have been better, but I do not, on that account, mean to say that he was wrong. I think he was right. My dear boys, there is no man so wise as he who explains what ought to have been done, after the event. It is like the progress of science. A child, in the year 1864, knows ten thousand things that the wisest philosopher of 1764 knew nothing about. So a boy may be able to understand that this or that would have been better, from what he now knows, when our wisest generals, from want of information at the time, could not. It is a solemn thing to be in command of an army which cannot be renewed, if once destroyed; especially when that army is the only breakwater against the torrent attempting to sweep us away.

I have, on all occasions, expressed these opinions of General Lee, and I intend to go on expressing them, with many others like them, and if anybody thinks I do so from interested motives they are welcome to their opinion. It is not likely that the Commander-in-Chief [357] will ever know whether Fifth Corporal Shabrach likes or dislikes him-whether he admires him, or the contrary. I am glad of that. I consider myself just as good as General Lee as long as I am honest and a good soldier, doing my duty to the country in the upright, brave, and independent attitude of a free Virginian; and let me tell you that the General would be the first to acknowledge it. My dear boys, there is nobody so simple and unassuming as a gentleman, and I tell you again that General Lee is not only a gentleman, but a great man, and Corporal Shabrach takes off his hat and salutes him, whether noticed by the General or not. It is his duty to salute him, and he performs that duty without expecting to be promoted to Fourth Corporal for it.

I will therefore say of General Lee that, to my thinking, his character bears the most striking and surprising resemblance to that of General Washington. When I say this, you will know my opinion of him, for I have always taught my boys to revere the name of the Father of his Country. In saying this about General Lee, I do not mean any empty compliment. It is very easy to talk about a “second Washington” without meaning much, but I mean what I say. I read Marshall's Life of the General some years since, and I remember taking notice of the fact that Washington appeared to be the tallest and strongest of all the great men around him. I did not see that he excelled each one of them in every particular. On the contrary, there was Patrick Henry; he could make a better speech. There was Jefferson; he could write a better “State paper.” And there was Alexander Hamilton, who was a much better hand at figures, and the hocus-pocus of currency and “finance.” (I wish we had him now, if we could make him a States' Rights man.) But Washington, to my thinking, was a much greater man than Henry, or Jefferson, or Hamilton. He was wiser. In the balance and harmony of his faculties he excelled them all, and when it came to his moral nature they were nowhere at all! In reading his life, I remember thinking that he was the fairest man I ever heard of. His very soul seemed to revolt against injustice to the meanest creature that crawled; and he appeared to be too proud to [358] use the power he wielded to crush those who had made him their enemy by their own wrong-doing. Although he was a man of violent temper, he had it under perfect control, and he seems to have gone through life with the view of having carved on his tombstone: “Here lies a man who never did intentional injustice to a human creature.” Now anybody that knows General Lee knows that this is just like him. For my part, I am just as sure as I can be of anything, that if one of his Major-Generals tried to oppress the humble Fifth Corporal Shabrach, he would put the Major-General under arrest, and make him answer for his despotism. If you will look at the way General Washington fought, also, you will find a great resemblance to General Lee's tactics. The enemy had then, as now, to be worried out — to be evaded by falling back when the ammunition or rations gave out — to be harassed by partisans, and defeated at one point to balance their success at another. The account current was cast up at the end of each year, the balance struck, and preparations made to open a new account for the next year, and the next!

That's the way we are fighting this war, and that is General Lee's plan, I think, as it was Washington's.

All this army has pretty much the same opinion of General Lee that I have, and is glad that it is commanded by one whom it both respects and loves. There is not doubt about the General's popularity with the army, and its confidence in him. The men call him “Uncle Robert,” and are proud of his notice. I told you that he once spoke to your father, who is nothing but Fifth Corporal, and you will be proud when I tell you that little Willie's letter, the first he ever wrote me, was the cause. I was sitting on a stump by the roadside reading it with a delight that showed itself, I suppose, in my countenance, when, hearing horses' hoofs near me, I raised my head and saw General Lee, in his old riding-cape, with several members of his staff. I rose quickly to my feet and made the military salute-two fingers to the hat-when what was my surprise to see the General stop with all his staff. His hand went to his hat in return for my salute, and looking at me with his clear eyes, he said in a grave, friendly voice: [359]

“I suppose that is a letter from your wife, is it not, my friend?”

It was a proud moment for Corporal Shabrach, I assure you, my children, to be called “my friend” by old Uncle Robert. But somehow, he didn't make me feel as if he was condescending. It was just as if he had said: “Shabrach, my friend, we are both good patriots, fighting for our country, and because I am Commander-in-Chief that is no reason why I should not respect an honest Fifth Corporal, and take an interest in him and his domestic matters.” His voice seemed to say all that, and thinking he was in no hurry that morning, I replied:

No, General; I have no wife now, although I have had two in my time, the last one having been a great trial to me, owing to her temper, which was a hard thing to stand.

The General smiled at this, and said with a sort of grave humour that made his eyes twinkle:

Well, my friend, you appear to be too well advanced in life to have a sweetheart, although

(I saw him look at the chevrons on my sleeve) “all the Corporals I ever knew have been gallant.”

“It is not from a sweetheart, General,” I replied; “after Mrs. Shabrach the Second died, I determined to remain unmarried. My little boy, Willie, wrote it; he is only six years old, but is anxious to grow up and be one of General Lee's soldiers.”

“That is a brave boy,” returned the General; “but I hope the war will not last so long. You must give him my love, and tell him to fight for his country if he is ever called upon. Good day, my friend.”

And saluting me, the General rode on. He often stops to speak to the soldiers in that way; and I mention this little incident, my children, to show you how kindly he is in his temper, and how much he loves a quiet joke, with all his grave air, and the anxieties that must rest on him as Commander-in-Chief of the army.

I have always despised people that looked up with a mean worship to great men, but I see nothing wrong or unmanly in regarding with a sort of veneration — a mixture of affection and respect-this noble old cavalier, who seems to have stepped out of the past into the present, to show us what sort of men Virginia can still produce. As for myself, I never look at him without [360] thinking: “It is good for you to be alive to let the youths of 1863 see what their fathers and grandfathers were in the great old days.” The sight of the erect form, the iron-gray hair and beard, the honest eyes, and the stately figure, takes me back to the days when Washington, and Randolph, and Pendleton, used to figure on the stage, and which my father told me all about in my youth. Long may the old hero live to lead us, and let no base hand ever dare to sully the glories of our well beloved General — the “noblest Roman of them all,” the pink of chivalry and honour. May health and happiness attend him!

Your affectionate father, Solomon Shabrach, 5th Corporal, Army of Northern Virginia.

Ii. His description of the passport Office.

Camp Quattlebum Rifles, A. N. V., January 25, 1864.
When you come out of Richmond, my dear boys, you have to get a passport. As you have never yet travelled from home, I will explain what a passport is. It is a paper (always brown) which is signed by somebody or his clerk, and which induces a melancholy-looking soldier at the cars, with a musket and fixed bayonet, to let you go back from the horrors of Richmond to the delights of camp.

As without this brown paper (for unless the paper is brown the passport is not good) you cannot get back home — that is to camp, the soldier's home — there is, of course, a great crowd of applicants always at the office where the papers are delivered. I was recently in Richmond, having been sent there on business connected with the Quartermaster's Department of our regiment, and I will describe for your instruction the passport office, and the way you get a passport.

I thought at first I would not need one, because my orders were approved by several high officers, and last by Major Taylor, Adjutant-General of the army, “by command of General [361] Lee,” and nobody had demanded any other evidence of my right to travel before I reached Richmond. “Uncle Robert” will not allow his provost-marshals at Orange or Gordonsville to deny his sign-manual, and I was under the mistaken impression that I could enjoy the luxury of taking back a lot of shoes and blankets to the Quattlebum Rifles, without getting a permit on brown paper from some Major or Captain in Richmond. I accordingly went to the cars, and on presenting my orders to the melancholy young man with the musket and bayonet, posted there, found his musket drop across the door. When I asked him what that meant, he shook his head and said I had “no passport.” I called his attention again to my orders, but he remained immovable, muttering in a dreary sort of way, “You must get a passport.”

“Why, here are the names of a Brigadier and Major-General.”

“You must get a passport.”

“Here is Major Taylor's signature, by command of General Lee.

“You must get a passport.”

“From whom?”

Captain — ,” I forget who, “at the passport office.”

This appeared to be such a good joke that I began to laugh, at which the sentinel looked very much astonished, and evidently had his doubts of my sanity. I went back and at once looked up the “passport office.” I found that it was in a long wooden building, on a broad street, in the upper part of the city, and when I reached the place I found a large crowd assembled at the door. This door was about two feet wide, and one at a time only could enter — the way being barred by a fiercelooking sentinel who kept his musket with fixed bayonet. I observed that everything was “fixed bayonet” in Richmond, directly across the door. This ferocious individual let in one at a time, and as each one entered the crowd behind him, which was as tightly packed together as a parcel of herrings in a barrel, surged forward with a sort of rush, only to be driven back by the sentinel, who scowled at them pretty much as a farmer does at a parcel of lazy negroes who have neglected their work [362] and incurred the penalty of the lash. As fast as the passports were granted, those who got them passed out at another door; a second sentinel, with musket and fixed bayonet also, bade defiance to the crowd.

Well, after working my way through the mass, and remaining jammed in it for over an hour, my turn came, and with a slow and reluctant motion, the sentinel, who had been eyeing me for some time with a sullen and insolent look, raised his musket and allowed me to enter. His eye continued to be fixed on me, as if I had come to pick some one's pocket, but I did not heed him, my curiosity being too much excited by the scene before me. A row of applicants were separated from a row of clerks in black coats, by a tall railing with a sort of counter on top, and the clerks were bullying the applicants. That is the only word I can use to describe it. I am not mistaken about this. Here were very respectable looking citizens, officers of the army, fine looking private soldiers, and all were being bullied. “Why do they bully people at the passport office?” you will probably ask, boys. I don't know, but I have always observed that small “official” people always treat the world at large with a sort of air of defiance, as if “outsiders” had no right to be coming there to demand anything of them; and the strange thing is, that everybody submits to it as a matter of course.

Well, there were a large number of persons who wanted passports, and only a few clerks were ready to wait on them. A considerable number of well dressed young men who would make excellent privates — they were so stout and well fed-sat around the warm stove reading newspapers and chatting. I wondered that they did not help, but was afterwards informed that this was not “their hour,” and they had nothing to do with the establishment until “their hour” arrived.

At last my turn came round, and I presented my orders to a clerk, who looked first at the paper, then at me, pretty much as a cashier in a bank would do if he suspected that a draft presented to him was a forgery. Then the official again studied the paper, and said in the tone of a Lieutenant-General commanding: [363]

“What is your name?”

“It is on my orders,” I said.

“I asked your name,” snapped the official.

Solomon Shabrach.”

“What rank?”

“Fifth Corporal.”

“What regiment?”

“Quattlebum Rifles.”

“Hum! Don't know any such regiment. What army?”

General Lee's.”

“What did you visit Richmond for?”

“On public business.”

“I asked you what you came to Richmond for!” growled the clerk, with the air of a man who is going to say next, “Sentinel, arrest this man, and bear him off to the deepest dungeon of Castle Thunder.”

“My friend,” I said mildly, for I am growing too old to have my temper ruffled by every youngster, “the paper you hold in your hand is my orders, endorsed by my various military superiors. That paper will show you that I am Corporal Shabrach, of the Quattlebum Rifles,--Virginia regiment, —‘s brigade, -‘s division, —‘s corps, Army of Northern Virginia. You will also see from it that I am in Richmond to take charge of Quartermaster's stores, and return with them to camp ‘without unnecessary delay.’ I have obtained the stores, which are shoes and blankets, and I want to obey my order and take them to the company. If you are unwilling to give me the necessary passport to do so, give me back my orders, and I will go to General Winder, who is the commanding officer here, I believe, and ask him if there is any objection to my returning with my shoes and blankets to the army.”

At the name of General Winder a growl ran along the table, and in about a minute I had my passport handed me without further discussion. It was a permit to go to Orange Courthouse, Corporal Shabrach binding himself on honour not to communicate any intelligence (for publication) which, if known to the enemy, would be prejudicial to the Confederate States; [364] also signing an oath on the back of the paper, by which he further solemnly swore that he would yield true faith and allegiance to the aforesaid Confederate States. This was on brown paperand I then knew that I could get out of Richmond without trouble. The sentinel at the other door raised his musket, scowled at me, and let me pass; and at the cars, the melancholy sentinel there, too, did likewise. I observed that he read my pass upside down, with deep attention; but I think he relied upon the fact that the paper was brown, as a conclusive proof of its genuineness.

I have thus described, my dear boys, the manner in which you procure a passport in Richmond. Why is the public thus annoyed? I really can't tell you. Everybody has to get one; and even if Mrs. Shabrach (the second) was alive she would have to sign that oath of true allegiance if she wanted to get on the cars. I shall only add that I think the clerk who put her under cross-examination would soon grow tired of the ceremony. Her tongue was not a pleasant one; but she is now at rest.

I must now say good-by, my dear boys.

Your affectionate father, Solomon Shabrach, Fifth Corporal.

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