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Anecdotes of General R. E. Lee.

By Captian T. C. Morton, of the Twenty-Sixth Virginia Battalion.
The recent interesting ceremonies of the unveiling of the Lee statue at Lexington having called forth the recital of several incidents in the life of our grand old chieftain, which had not been before published, the writer recalls one or two which well illustrate the character of the man.

It was in the year of 1861, before the Confederacy had learned to appreciate her great leader. General Floyd had fallen back from Sewell Mountain, West Va., before the advancing columns of Rosecrans. Floyd being the ranking Brigadier, ordered Wise to follow him from his camp on Sewell to Meadow Bluff, twelve miles eastward and to the rear. Wise swore he would not retreat another foot, that Little Sewell was the place to make a stand, and positively refusing to obey General Floyd's order, commenced to fortify his [518] position on the top of Little Sewell Mountain. Floyd reported to General Lee, who was in command of that department, but many miles away, the insubordination of General Wise; meanwhile Rosecrans had reached the top of Big Sewell and also stopping, began to strengthen his position, and with his largely superior force was threatening the annihiliation of the Wise Legion.

General Lee, divining at once the serious position of affairs, hurried with his staff rapidly across the country, ordering his other troops to follow. Coming first to Floyd's position, he hastily reconnoitered that and then galloped on twelve miles further to Wise, who stood like a bulldog on the top of Little Sewell, with his 3,000 men, growling at Big Rosecrans not more than half a mile off in an air-line on the opposite mountain.

Lee, with his practiced eye, took in at once the superiority of Wise's position, assumed command, ordered up Floyd and rapidly prepared for the offensive. His troops soon began to come up, and as regiment after regiment, during the next few days, arrived and took position; we saw gathered the largest army we western boys had yet seen in the field. Earthworks were thrown up, batteries placed in position, stringent orders issued against furloughing, and the troops ordered to supply themselves at once with fresh ammunition—(the protracted rain had damaged a great deal of that in the soldiers' cartridge-boxes.)

The writer was directed to take a detachment and go to the ordnance train and secure what was needed for his company. But where to find the ordnance train, was the question. However, impressed with the importance of his mission, he started down the mountain with his men, none of whom had ever yet smelt battle powder. Soon getting down among the strange troops and the long lines of wagons and parks of artillery, the party was completely lost and could only ask every one they met, ‘Where is the ordnance train?’ ‘Who is the ordnance officer?’ &c. At last a soldier passing said, ‘Yonder is General Lee, he can tell you.’ The green Lieutenant looked in the direction indicated and saw, not far off, a martial figure, standing in the rain by a log fire before a small tent, with his breeches tucked in his high cavalry boots, his hands behind his back, a high, broad-brimmed black hat, with a gilt cord around it, on his head, which was bowed as if in deep thought. With this idea in his little head, hardly concealed from the observer, ‘here are two military men well met,’ the Lieutenant stepped boldly up, saluted, introduced himself, and asked the General [519] to favor him with the information as to who was the ordnance officer and where was the train? The next minute ‘he wished he hadn't.’ General Lee quietly eyed his intruder a moment, and I can never forget those eyes, then said:

‘I think it very strange, Lieutenant, that an officer of this command, which has been here a week, should come to me, who am just arrived, to ask who his ordnance officer is, and where to find his ammunition. This is in keeping with everything else I find here — no order, no organization; nobody knows where anything is, no one understands his duty; officers and men are equally ignorant. This will not do.’ Then pointing to a tent and some wagons on a knoll a few hundred yards off, ‘There you will find what you are looking for, sir, and I hope you will not have to come to me again on such an errand.’ It is needless to say, that the Lieutenant went, and delayed not his going.

But a few days passed, and the army, now grown to 15,000 or 18,000 men, was in fighting trim. It was evident to any observer that an attack on Rosecrans's entrenched position was contemplated, and the order to ‘fall in’ was expected any hour of the day or night.

While this was the position of affairs, the orderly in charge of our company—a man about fifty years of age, whom patriotism and nothing else had brought as a volunteer into the war—received a letter from his wife. Diphtheria was in the family, one child was dead or dying and others were stricken, and the poor wife begged piteously for her husband to come home. The old Sergeant brought the letter to his Captain, made him read it, and begged him to go to General Lee and get him a furlough. Captain W. said it would be useless, and he could not undertake to ask the General to ‘go back on his order.’ Sergeant S. then came with his letter to the writer, and while the tears streamed down his rough cheeks besought him to see General Lee for him. How could I stand there and see an old soldier weep! With the letter in my hand and a vivid recollection of our last interview, I sought the weather-beaten tent in the mountain ravine and found the General sitting on a camp-stool at the door of his tent. With a pleasant nod of recognition he inquired my business. The letter was handed to him. He opened and read it, and as he read the expression of his face softened like unto that of a woman. Handing back the letter he said, ‘I wish, Lieutenant, I could send your man home to his sick children; but, my dear sir, we all went into this struggle expecting to make sacrifices [520] for our country. We are all making sacrifices; your Sergeant must make his. He cannot go now; every man is wanted at his post. Tell him that as soon as the exigencies of this occasion will admit he shall have his leave.’

The next night, between midnight and dawn, the wily Rosecrans folded his tents and softly stole away in the darkness; and the rising sun, when it touched with its rays the top of Big Sewell, showed a deserted and silent camp, where the evening before hundreds of white tents had covered the plateau.

Our pursuing cavalry during the day sent back word that the enemy were safe across the swollen river in their rear and the bridge burnt between the two armies. Pursuit was useless. The next day a furlough for Sergeant Skaggs came to company headquarters, and there went home to his stricken family a soldier who never afterwards hesitated to peril his life for his commander or the cause they both espoused.

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R. E. Lee (7)
Jonathan B. Floyd (6)
H. A. Wise (5)
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