previous next

Chapter 15: in Pennsylvania

  • Impressing horses the only plundering Lee's Army did
  • -- a remarkable interview with an old lady in a Pennsylvania town -- she expects to meet Stonewall Jackson in Heaven -- two Pennsylvania boys make friends with the rebels -- “Extra Billy” Leads the Confederate column into York, his brigade band playing “Yankee Doodle,” and makes a speech on the public Green -- “old Jube” breaks up the meeting -- “DickEwell and the burghers of Carlisle.

I do not remember where I overtook Ewell's corps, but think I entered Pennsylvania with them. General Lee had issued stringent orders against plundering and, certainly in the main, the men carefully observed these orders. I was constantly told by the inhabitants that they suffered less from our troops than from their own, and that if compelled to have either, they preferred having “the rebels” camped upon their lands. I saw no plundering whatever, except that once or twice I did see branches laden with fruit broken from cherry trees.

Of course, it goes without saying, that the quartermasters, especially of artillery battalions, were, confessedly and of malice aforethought, horse thieves. It was, perhaps, adding insult to injury to offer to pay for the horses, as we did, in Confederate money; yet occasionally the owners took it, as “better than nothing” --how better it would be difficult to say. I felt sorry for the farmers, some of whom actually concealed their horses in their dwelling houses, or, rather, attempted to conceal them, for we became veritable sleuthhounds in running down a horse, and were up to all the tricks and dodges devised to throw us off the track.

After all, we gained very little by our horse stealing. The impressed animals were, for the most part, great, [200] clumsy, flabby Percherons or Conestogas, which required more than twice the feed our compact, hard-muscled little Virginia horses required, and yet could not do half the work they did, nor stand half the hardship and exposure. It was pitiable, later, to see these great brutes suffer when compelled to dash off at full gallop with a gun, after pasturing on dry broom sedge and eating a quarter of a feed of weevil-eaten corn. They seemed to pine for the slow draft and full feed of their Pennsylvania homes.

To me this campaign of invasion was of somewhat peculiar interest. Not only did I have a wide general acquaintance with the North, but two or three of my Yale classmates were from the very section of country we were traversing, and I therefore felt somewhat acquainted and connected with the people and the region. I was struck, too, with the resemblance, both of the country and its inhabitants, to the Valley of Virginia. I noted the same two great stocks and races as making up the population,--the Dutch and the Scotch-Irish,--and to a great extent they had laid out their smaller towns and arranged their buildings, orchards, wells, --everything, in short,--upon their farms, very much after the familiar Valley pattern.

One bright day toward the end of June, our column was passing through the main street of such a town, when, being very thirsty, I rode up to the front fence of a house which, with its yard and surroundings, might have been set down in the main street of any one of a half-dozen Valley of Virginia towns without being in any respect out of place, and asked an elderly lady sitting in the porch if I might get a drink of water from the well. She courteously gave permission and I entered the yard, got a delicious drink of water, thanked her, and was in the act of leaving, when the old lady-who looked like the typical Valley gran'ma-very pleasantly asked if I wouldn't take a seat and rest a little. I thanked her, stepped up on the porch and sat down, and we soon got into a friendly and pleasant conversation, in the course of which she asked me of myself, family, and surroundings, and seemed much interested to know that I had a sister in New Haven, Conn. She gladly consented to mail a letter for [201] me, and had a table, pen, ink, paper and stamps brought that I might write it. This letter was faithfully mailed by the old lady, and was the only communication my sister received from me for a year or more.

As I finished writing a young married woman, evidently the daughter of my kindly hostess, came to the door, saying that her little son, naming him, was missing. In a few moments they brought the child, a boy of five or six years, to the front porch, pale and trembling violently. They had found him between the mattress and feather bed in an upstairs room, where he had hidden for fear of the rebels, of whose ferocious cruelty, blood-curdling tales had been told him. In a few moments he was in my lap, and we were the best of friends.

Just as he was beginning to warm into his nest his mother announced that she had not seen anything of her elder son for some time, when, on the instant, a bright boy of ten or twelve summers burst into the gate, breathless with excitement, and gasped out, “Mother, mother! may I go to camp with the rebels? They are the nicest men I ever saw in my life. They are going to camp right out here in the woods, and they are going to have a dance, too!”

Harry Hayes' Louisiana brigade was passing at the moment, and in the open gate stood the lad's companion, waiting for him — a bowing, smiling, grimacing, shoulder-shrugging Frenchman, who promised, in rather broken English, that he would take the best possible care of him. The mother hesitated, but a glance at her youngest, whose arm had now stolen around my neck, decided her, and off went her eldest with his Creole comrade; and if the brigade did have the dance, then the lad saw what was really worth seeing, for if there was anything Hayes' Creoles did and loved to do better than to fight, it was to dance; and their camp stag dances, sandwiched in between a big march and a big battle, were said to be the most “utterly utter” performances in the way of faun-like pranks, that grown and sane men ever indulged in.

Before I left the old lady asked me if I had ever seen Stonewall Jackson, and upon my responding that I had, she [202] said quietly, but with the deepest feeling, that she expected to see him soon, for if anyone had ever left this earth who had gone straight to Heaven it was he.

This was almost too much, and I said to her, “Madam, who on earth are you and where did you come from?” She said she was born in the Valley of Virginia and had been brought to this country when a girl. I could not forbear kissing her hand as I departed, and told her I felt sure she would get There, and I hoped we would meet in that blessed country where there would be no more wars nor separations between God's dear children.

By this time the reader has doubtless learned that things were not likely to be dull when our old friend “Extra Billy” was about; that in fact there was apt to be “music in the air” whenever he was in charge. On the occasion below described, the old Governor seemed to be rather specially concerned about the musical part of the performance.

We were about entering the beautiful Pennsylvania town of York, General Smith's brigade in the lead. Under these conditions, feeling sure there was likely to be a breeze stirring about the head of the column, I rode forward so as to be near the General and not to miss the fun. As we approached the population seemed to be very generally in the streets, and I saw at a glance that the old Governor had blood in his eye. Turning to Fred, his aide,--who was also his son, and about the strongest marked case of second edition I ever saw,--he told him to “Go back and look up those tooting fellows,” as he called the brigade band, “and tell them first to be sure their drums and horns are all right, and then to come up here to the front and march into town tooting ‘Yankee Doodle’ in their very best style.”

Fred was off in a jiffy, and soon here came the band, their instruments looking bright and smart and glistening in the June sunlight-playing, however, not “Yankee Doodle,” but “Dixie,” the musicians appearing to think it important to be entirely impartial in rendering these national airs, and therefore giving us “Dixie” by way of prelude to “Yankee Doodle.”

When they got to the head of the column, and struck up “Yankee Doodle,” and the Governor, riding alone and bareheaded [203] in front of his staff, began bowing and saluting first one side and then the other, and especially every pretty girl he saw, with that manly, hearty smile which no man or woman ever doubted or resisted — the Yorkers seemed at first astounded, then pleased, and finally, by the time we reached the public square, they had reached the point of ebullition, and broke into enthusiastic cheers as they crowded about the head of the column, actually embarrassing its progress, till the old Governor,--the “Governor-General,” we might call him,--nothing loth, acceded to the half suggestion and called a halt, his brigade stacking arms, and constituting, if not formally organizing, themselves and the people of York into a political meeting.

It was a rare scene — the vanguard of an invading army and the invaded and hostile population hobnobbing on the public green in an enthusiastic public gathering. The general did not dismount, but from the saddle he made a rattling, humorous speech, which both the Pennsylvanians and his own brigade applauded to the echo. He said substantially:

My friends, how do you like this way of coming back into the Union? I hope you like it; I have been in favor of it for a good while. But don't misunderstand us. We are not here with any hostile intent-unless the conduct of your side shall render hostilities unavoidable. You can see for yourselves we are not conducting ourselves like enemies today. We are not burning your houses or butchering your children. On the contrary, we are behaving ourselves like Christian gentlemen, as we are.

You see, it was getting a little warm down our way. We needed a summer outing and thought we would take it at the North, instead of patronizing the Virginia springs, as we generally do. We are sorry, and apologize that we are not in better guise for a visit of courtesy, but we regret to say our trunks haven't gotten up yet; we were in such a hurry to see you that we could not wait for them. You must really excuse us.

What we all need, on both sides, is to mingle more with each other, so that we shall learn to know and appreciate [204] each other. Now here's my brigade — I wish you knew them as I do. They are such a hospitable, whole-hearted, fascinating lot of gentlemen. Why, just think of it — of course this part of Pennsylvania is ours to-day; we've got it, we hold it, we can destroy it, or do what we please with it. Yet we sincerely and heartily invite you to stay. You are quite welcome to remain here and to make yourselves entirely at home-so long as you behave yourselves pleasantly and agreeably as you are doing now. Are we not a fine set of fellows? You must admit that we are.

At this point my attention was called to a volley of very heated profanity poured forth in a piping, querulous treble, coming up from the rear, and being mounted and located where I commanded a view of the road, I saw that the second brigade in column, which had been some distance in the rear, had caught up, and was now held up by our public meeting, which filled and obstructed the entire street, and that Old Jube, who had ridden forward to ascertain the cause of the dead-lock, was fairly blistering the air about him and making furious but for the time futile efforts to get at Extra Billy, who in plain sight, and not far off, yet blissfully unconscious of the presence of the major-general and of his agreeable observations and comments, was still holding forth with great fluency and acceptability.

The jam was solid and impervious. As D. H. Hill's report phrased it, “Not a dog, no, not even a sneaking exempt, could have made his way through” --and at first and for some time, Old Jube couldn't do it, and no one would help him. But at last officers and men were compelled to recognize the division commander, and he made his way so far that, by leaning forward, a long stretch, and a frantic grab. he managed to catch General Smith by the back of his coat collar. Even Jube did not dare curse the old general in an offensive way, but he did jerk him back and around pretty vigorously and half screamed:

General Smith, what the devil are you about! stopping the head of this column in this cursed town?


With unruffled composure the old fellow replied:

Having a little fun, General, which is good for all of us, and at the same time teaching these people something that will be good for them and won't do us any harm.

Suffice it to say the matter was amicably arranged and the brigade and its unique commander moved on, leaving the honest burghers of York wondering what manner of men we were. I should add that General Early had the greatest regard and admiration for General Smith, which indeed he could not well avoid, in view of his intense patriotic devotion and his other sterling and heroic qualities. I have seldom heard him speak of any other officer or soldier in the service, save of course Lee and Jackson, in such exalted terms as of the old “Governor-General.”

May I be pardoned for relating one more incident of our Pennsylvania trip, and that not strictly a reminiscence; that is, I was not present and did not myself hear the conversation I propose to relate. During the latter part of the war I enjoyed the privilege and pleasure of intimate personal acquaintance with Lieutenant-General Ewell, but at this time I knew him only as every soldier in the army knew him. Some of his salient peculiarities, as well as the peculiar character of some of our intercourse with the people of Pennsylvania, are well brought out in the following story, which I have every reason to regard as authentic.

The General was, I think, at Carlisle, though I am not quite certain of the place, when the burghers of the town, or rather a deputed committee of solid citizens, called at headquarters to interview him with reference to several matters. Amongst other things they said there was a certain mill, the product of which was used largely by the poorer people of the place, who were suffering and likely to suffer more, because of the mill's not running, and they asked whether he had any objection to its being run.

“Why, no,” said Old Dick; “certainly not. It isn't my mill; what have I got to do with it anyhow? But stop, maybe this is what you want — if any of my people should interfere with your use of your mill, you come and tell me. Will that do, and is that all?” [206]

They thanked him profusely and the spokesman said:

No, General, that isn't quite all. We are Lutherans and we've got a church.

“Glad to hear it.”

“Well, can we open it next Sunday?”

“What? What do you mean? It isn't my church. Certainly, open it, if you want to. I'll attend it myself if I am here.”

“0, thank you, General! we hoped you wouldn't object.”

“Object? What do you mean, anyway? What's the matter? What do you want? Out with it. I'll do anything I can for you, but I've got nothing to do with your mills or your churches. I'm not going to interfere with them, but I haven't time to stay here all the evening talking nonsense like this.”

“But, General, we hope you won't be mad with us. We are Lutherans and we have a church service. Can we use it next Sunday?”

“Look here, I'm tired of this thing! What have I got to do with your mill, your church, or your service? Speak quick and speak plain, or leave at once!”

“Well, then, General, we hope you won't get mad. In our service we pray-we pray for-we pray for the President of the United States. May we use our service? Can we pray for him?”

“Who do you mean, Lincoln? Certainly, pray for him; pray as much as ever you can — I don't know anybody that stands more in need of prayer!”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Yankee Doodle (5)
Billy Smith (4)
Fitzhugh Lee (3)
Stonewall Jackson (3)
Ewell (3)
Harry Hayes (2)
Lincoln (1)
Irish (1)
Daniel Harvey Hill (1)
English (1)
Jubal Early (1)
Dick (1)
Carlisle (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
June (2)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: