A ride for Stonewall.
[from the Philadelphia times, February 11, 1893.]
A Confederate officer's wonderful record in bank's year.
Over the Blue Ridge
by night—How the order by which Jackson
concentrated in the campaign of 1862 was carried through night and rain by a Boy Lieutenant
The battle of Kernstown
was fought on March 23, 1862, and for the only time in his military career General Jackson
True, he contended against heavy odds, accomplished his purpose of retaining Banks
and his army in the Valley
, and was thanked by a resolution of the Confederate Congress, but the fact remains, his marvelous record contains this one defeat.
The army returned to its former camp, south of Mount Jackson
, and near Rude's Hill
I was a young and still younger looking second lieutenant in the Second Virginia Regiment, Stonewall Brigade. One raw, cold day near the middle of April, I was ordered to report at once at headquarters for special duty.
At army headquarters I was introduced to General Jackson
, who received me with his characteristic politeness, and few words.
After dinner he withdrew to his room, and I saw no more of him that day.
For several days I was engaged with Colonel Baylor
, arranging the conscripted militia and assigning them to old regiments.
On April 17th, General Banks
advanced, and General Jackson
broke camp, and moved further up the Valley
I was left behind with the cavalry.
The next day we reached Harrisonburg
, and about the time of setting sun, General Jackson
called for me. The heavens were covered with black clouds, and the rain was descending in torrents.
The General handed me a paper from under his rubber cape, and requested me to take it to General Ewell
Surprised to hear that Ewell
was in the vicinity, I innocently asked where I would find him?
He quietly replied that he was on the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains
, somewhere near Culpeper Courthouse, and while my heart stood still with amazement, he told me the contents of the paper, and added that as it was very important, he did not care to send it by a courier, and wanted it delivered by daylight in the morning.
For a moment I was stampeded, paralyzed.
I had never been over a foot of the intervening country, had only a vague idea that Culpeper
was somewhere beyond the mountains, but how to get there I could not imagine.
And then night was upon us, it was raining like the deluge, and I had already ridden to and fro that day about twenty-five miles. But a young man soon rallies, and I quickly pulled myself together.
I was being weighed in the balance, right there, and I determined to throw all my weight in the scales.
‘General, I will start at once if I can get a horse.’
‘Take my mare,’ said generous Kidder Meade
, of the staff, ‘and strike for Stanardsville
Ride over the Mountains.
As I rode away on Meade
's beautiful dun mare the voice of the
General followed me—‘A successful and pleasant ride.’
It was kindly meant, but it sounded strangely, like sarcasm.
Forward I went into the mud and into the night, every minute growing darker and wetter.
All weariness was gone, and I felt as fresh as my mettled horse.
In a little while I was rounding the base of the Massanutten mountain
, where it breaks as abruptly down into the valley as it rises from it at Strasburg
The towering mass only horrified the night.
Then on through McGaheysville
and across the south fork of the Shenandoah
Here, as I approached the Blue Ridge
, I felt almost helpless in the impenetrable stormy night.
I stopped to make some inquiries, and procured a small bottle of whiskey for an emergency.
Then into and up the black mountain.
Vision was hopeless, but fortunately the road was solid and fairly good, and my horse could keep to it. I could reach out and feel her neck and ears, but could not see them.
My speed was necessarily slackened, not only because a horse cannot climb a mountain like a goat, but safety required some caution.
At times I heard the water rush under us and across the road and tumble in torrents so far down below that I knew we were traveling along perilous edges.
The ascent seemed very steep and very long.
At last we reached the summit of Swift Run Gap.
It was from this summit and through this gap that Governor Spotswood
and his Knights of the Golden Horseshoe
, in 1716, obtained the white man's first view of the Valley of the Shenandoah
From the same point of view I did not partake of their enchantment.
But just here I met a knight of a less romantic order.
He was a belated, drowsy, bedraggled courier, plodding his way from Ewell
From him I extracted some useful information as to my route, and in return gave him a pull at my flask.
It was vile stuff, but as he seemed to like it I gave him the bottle and left him on the summit.
On the wrong road.
The descent was quicker, and I soon went plunging into Stanardsville
, having done thirty-seven miles on that blooded mare.
Here I tried to get another horse, but failed.
My efforts cost me half an hour, and then I moved on. Anxiety for my noble beast added another horror to the night.
Just out of Stanardsville
the road forked in the middle of a broad and shallow stream, and, of course, I took the wrong one. A half mile beyond I aroused the inmates of a cabin
and learned my mistake.
Retracing my steps, I found the right road, and was soon in front of a white farm-house.
A few well-directed shouts brought an astonished masculine head out of an upper window.
I appealed to him for a horse.
I fancied I saw him smile satirically as he declined, but he politely urged me to dismount and ‘ “come in out of the wet.”
’ I then knew I must play trumps and said plaintively, ‘My dear friend, I am an officer of Stonewall Jackson
's staff, carrying an important message, and I must have a fresh horse.’
was all the response I had, and down went the window.
But immediately I heard again at the back of the house, with rising inflection, ‘Saul
, I say Saul
—drat that sleepy nigger—there you are—run, you wooly head, bring out the big black mare, and be quick about it.’
He soon appeared with Saul
and the horse and a lantern, and helped to exchange the saddle and bridle.
As I climbed from the fence on the mare and rode away he threw the light of the lantern on my face, and said, in a tender voice: ‘Good luck, for I have a boy, may be about your age, with Stonewall Jackson
My new beast was as tall as a dromedary, and as I steered her through the deep mud she seemed to plough it like a gunboat and knew just as little about a riding bridle.
Madison Courthouse was fifteen miles from Stanardsville
, and by the time we reached it she was worn out. There, fortunately, was a courier station, and I exchanged her for a little gray horse.
Clattering through the streets of that slumbering town I was soon in the open country and on another deep mud road.
Suddenly my horse slipped, gave a groan and was down, and I rolled off into the mire.
I jumped up and asked him to do the same, but he never moved and was apparently dead.
Taking off the saddle, I stood by the roadside in hopeless bewilderment.
I looked about me and could see no habitation, no light—nothing.
Just then a little imp jumped into the road on the opposite side with a ‘Good Lordy
, what's dat?’
He was on his way to town for the doctor ‘for ole missus.’
He said it was ‘a mile or mo “ from town around de road, but cutabias ” cross de fiel's not more'n half a mile—not dat.’
I bribed him with a dollar to hurry to the tavern and tell them to send me another horse, and he disappeared like a rabbit in the dark.
I sat upon the fence and waited.
The rain was pouring down, I was covered with mud and water, my little horse gave no sign of life, the night was waning, and my spirits were sinking rapidly.
little darkey came, the forerunner of another white horse, which soon made its appearance.
I was soon mounted, and as my little black angel received the dollar and let go my bridle he cried: ‘Golly, I mos' forgot, I mus' run back after de doctor!’
Arrival at Culpeper Courthouse.
After nine miles more of spurring and splashing I ran into James City
, where I changed to a tall, gaunt roan that carried me valiantly the eleven miles to Culpeper Courthouse.
As I approached the town there was a suspicion of light in the direction of dawn, and the rain had partially worn itself out. In all directions I heard the drums of an early reveille and encountered a group of horsemen sitting on their horses in the gloaming.
I found it was General Dick Taylor
and his staff of Ewell
Learning that he was ordered to march, and evidently in the wrong direction, I suggested to him that he should not move until he heard from General Ewell
, who, he said, was encamped beyond Brandy Station
. One of the staff kindly offered me a fresh horse, and General Taylor
ordered a courier to lead the way and ‘ride like the devil.’
This the courier did, and so did I, but as I had been doing that thing all night it was no novelty to me. We rushed along like a pair of John Gilpins
, and as it never seemed to occur to my guide that I might be nearly worn out I didn't mention it.
But we soon made the six miles to Brandy Station
After several miles more we drew rein at the General
's quarters, just as I was beginning to be exhausted beyond endurance.
The General was just up, and I dismounted and handed him the crumpled and saturated dispatch.
He read it, and quickly turning to me he said: ‘You don't say—’ But the sentence was not finished.
Seeing me totter and about to fall, he caught me, led me to a cot and laid me there; and then the dear, rough old soldier made the air blue with orders for brandy and coffee and breakfast—not for himself, but for me.
Jackson's cool reception.
My ride was done, and nature asserted itself by reaction and exhaustion.
In less than twenty hours I had ridden about 105 miles, and since I left General Jackson
I had passed around the Massanutten, over the Blue Ridge
, and through rain and mud and impenetrable
night, had been on the strain of a cavalry charge for more than eighty miles.
When I revived and had something to eat and drink, the General
sent me in his ambulance to Culpeper Courthouse, where I went to bed in a hotel.
There I remained for twenty-four hours, and began to retrace my steps to the Valley of Virginia
It was a weary ride, taking up my horses as I went, and at 10 o'clock the second night I rode up to General Jackson
's headquarters, near Conrad's Store.
It had not ceased to rain for an hour since I left, and except when in bed I had been clad in soaking garments from start to finish.
I went into General Jackson
's room to report.
It was empty of furniture, and on the hearth were some dying coals of a wood fire.
He was lying on the floor, upon a thin mattress, wrapped in a blanket and asleep.
I awoke him and made my report.
He listened politely, and then with ‘Very good; you did get there in time; good night!’
he turned over to sleep and I left the room.
I will not attempt to describe my chagrin and indignation at this cool reception.
I felt that my ride had been a blank failure.
Refusing to be comforted by the staff, who knew the General
better, I threw off my heavy, soggy clothes and retired in grievous disappointment to an uncomfortable bed. But after awhile tired nature and youth took possession of me and I slept soundly.
Appointed on Jackson's staff.
The next morning the General
sent for me. He was alone, sitting on a camp-stool gazing into the fire.
He arose, holding in his hand a dispatch, which he said he had just received from General Ewell
, and then remarked: ‘Mr. Douglas
, Colonel Baylor
leaves me today to take command of the Stonewall Brigade, and I want to assign you to duty as assistant inspector-general on my staff.’
What I said of thanks I cannot remember, but pride and gratification healed all my wounds, and thus I entered the military family of Stonewall Jackson
The dispatch I had carried from General Jackson
that night was the order to General Ewell
to put his division in motion toward Swift Run Gap, and be ready to unite with the Army of the Valley
west of the Blue Ridge
Under that order was made the initial move in that great game of war in which Jackson
, sweeping down the valleys of Virginia
from behind the Massanutten, drove everything
before him to the banks of the Potomac
, and thundered at Harper's Ferry
until the threats seemed to jar the Capitol
, and then by fighting, confusing, defeating, or eluding the armies of Banks
, and Shields
, he marched back again, laden with spoils, and at Cross Keys
and Port Republic
closed the campaign ‘with a clap of thunder.’