previous next

The raw Confederate of April, 1861. [from the Richmond (Va.) star, January 25, 1874.]

The Amusing experience of commander Robert N. Northen, of Pickett Camp Confederate Veterans, as Narrated to the Camp Monday evening, January 22, 1894.

[Pickett Camp of Confederate Veterans, of this city, sometime since inaugurated a happy regulation. This is the reading at each of its weekly meetings of a paper by a comrade of some experience of his a own as soldier. These memories will be not only precious to posterity, but they are valuable as materials of history. [347]

Nothing could add more to the zest of the gathering or be more effective humanely. These unvarnished experiences can but be inspiring in the cause of national fellowship and of lofty patriotism. They bear a wistful charm that touches alike the heart of the true soldier, whether it beat in jacket of gray or blue. Honest hearts are truthful everywhere!

The Star commends itself to regard in preserving in its columns the Soldier Experiences of Pickett Camp. This Camp very sensibly entitles its presiding officer Commander. As there are some 300 or more Camps in the South, there has already been difficulty in identifying the Confederate war Colonel among the recurrent crop of each year, bearing the same title.

Commander Northen is as modest as he has proven himself faithful. His earnest performance has received recognition in his repeated re-election to the post he so worthily fills. We republish from the Star, in preceding pages, a paper by Sergeant Charles T. Loehr, ex-Commander of Pickett Camp.]

Comrade Northen said:

On Saturday morning, April 19, 1861, five companies—the Petersburg City Guards, Petersburg ‘A’ Grays, Petersburg ‘B’ Grays, Petersburg Riflemen, Lafayette Grays, and Petersburg Artillery—were ordered to Norfolk, Virginia, distant from Petersburg about eighty-six miles. Just before we reached Norfolk we were ordered to load our guns, which we did with much elation and great care. We were told the Yankees were in Norfolk about 2,000 strong, waiting for us. We were landed at the depot about sundown and marched down Main street, and were quartered back of Main street in an old hotel, to the joy of a good many of us, as yet without the sight of a Yankee.

Here at this hotel was the first blood lost by the Virginia troops. One of the ‘A’ Grays went to sleep in the window and fell out on his nose, causing it to bleed. The same night we were very much disturbed by the firing of cannon over on the Portsmouth side. A few of us started out and went down to the river. We could see very plainly the Gosport navy yard, and three or four large ships on fire. While we were there enjoying the beautiful sight, we were informed, by one of the smart Alecks, that as soon as the Yankees finished burning Portsmouth they were coming over immediately and burn Norfolk, and lick the Norfolk and Petersburg soldiers out of their [348] boots. We did not like that, and asked Smart Aleck where he got his information? He said he had just come from Portsmouth, and heard the order read.

As the fire burned downward the guns on the ships (that were on fire) exploded, and that caused some uneasiness among the boys from Petersburg.

About 1 o'clock we could see by the light from the burning navy yard that the mighty Pawnee (which had created so much anxiety at Richmond), with two vessels in tow going down the river towards Fort Monroe. Soon everything quieted down, and we went to sleep.

Next morning (Sunday) about 7 o'clock we were mustered in the Confederate States service, and then marched to the Fair Grounds. I think we remained there five or six days. From there we went to the Old Marine Hospital, and it was here we had the first real experience of camp life. Sweeping up and wheeling out the dirt, getting wood and water, forming regular messes, cooking, and doing guard and picket duty, now employed us.

The first time it fell to my lot to cook, I was instructed to get two pans and bag, and take a slip of paper to the commissary, with the number of men in mess. Off I went, thinking I was now an officer, with power to give orders, if it were only to say, ‘march to dinner.’

I found around the door of an old building about a dozen fellows, equipped like myself, in only pants and shirt, sleeves rolled up, all loudly complaining about the rations.

On an old door there was laid one-half of a bullock, complete except hide and head. Over that carcass presided three men. The president was armed with a large knife in his left hand, while in his right he had a carpenter's saw; the secretary read out the number of men in mess, and the vice-president made a mark commencing at the head, the president made a cut, then a saw and one more cut, ‘Mess No. 1, here is your meat.’ I saw how the bullock was going, and as the president was a slight acquaintance of mine (he carried out marketing for a butcher in Petersburg, by the name of Mr. Thompson), I sidled up to him and said: How do you do, Tommy? He looked up, surprised that he should be thus addressed. ‘I was green.’ I knew not the pomp of rank. Three years after, under the same circumstances, I would have addressed him as General. I then said, ‘Cut mine near the ribs.’ With a look [349] of greater surprise, he ordered me to stand back and await my turn; that all fared alike here. The Bible tells us that ‘the Serpent is the father of lies.’ This is doubtless true, but President Tommy was the father of Confederate lies, when he said ‘that all fared alike here.’ When my mess was called they had got through the neck and one leg. I got a fair piece of meat, and was given ten pounds of rice and twenty pounds of flour, with some potatoes. I made up the fire, cleaned my spider, pot, and pan, made biscuits, put my rice on to boil. I was told by the sergeant that I must have dinner ready by 12 o'clock. I ordered the table to be set. After baking three spiders of biscuits I commenced frying meat. I raised the top from the pot of rice, and found that the pot was full. That puzzled me, for it was a very large pot, and when I put the rice and water in it seemed that with a little sugar, one man could eat it all. I dipped out about half of the rice. In three minutes it was boiling over again. At 12 o'clock I had enough boiled rice to feed the regiment. Every vessel in the mess was full, also all we could borrow, and five gallons in the ashes, or thereabouts, and before Mess No. 8 was through dinner it was unanimously voted to employ a genuine cook. This we at once did. I want to say to the new soldiers when you cook good rice get a five-gallon pot, one half-pound rice, two gallons water. The pot will be full.

The first long roll was beat at nine o'clock, on a dark, rainy night. Such getting out and excitement we had never seen, or heard of ‘What's the matter?’ was being asked by everyone, officer and private. No one seemed to know. It was whispered down the line that the Pawnee had run pass Craney Island, and was coming up to Norfolk. One man said it was the artillery's business to attend to the Pawnee and not the infantry's. We were soon formed in line, and on our way to Norfolk, passed on through and soon got into a country road, passed Craney Island without seeing the Pawnee. Next rumor was that the enemy had landed at Sewell's Point in large forces, and were coming up the same road we were on. We were told to keep quiet, and march in close order. My chum said he was under the impression that if we were farther apart when the enemy fired into us, they would not kill so many. I thought the same. When we reached Sewell's Point we found everything serenely quiet and happy, to the disgust of the boys who wanted to fight. We were then marched back to camp, wet, hungry and very tired. The [350] only casualty was one of “A's” men falling into a creek and being fished out with a bayonet.

The first time I was ever placed on picket duty was on the Princess Anne road, leading into Norfolk, about a mile from camp.

It was a splendid moonlight night. When I was detailed for such a dangerous duty I began to think I was a man of great importance, and felt my upper lip for a moustache.

It had been rumored all the evening that the Yankees were landing in large forces at Virginia Beach.

I was placed at the forks of a road, and told to halt everything and everybody, and demand the countersign.

If they did not have it correct, word for word, I was to march them to the officer in charge.

The countersign for that night was ‘Beauregard.’ Being a new name to me, I got it Guardbeaure.

Between the hours of 2 and 3, while everything was perfectly quiet and the moon throwing its beaming rays on this mother earth of ours, I heard, away off in the distance, the soldiers' soul-stirring music—drum and fife. I looked down the road, and as plainly as I could see at the distance from which I guessed the music came, I saw a moving mass. Under the exciting circumstances, my eyes imagined so much that I took it to be a regiment. The body drew nearer and nearer, and as it did, it grew larger and larger, and the sound was plainer. I secreted myself behind a bush and waited developments. While I was waiting, my mind was busily engaged in scheming what I would do. Well, I thought if they were Yankees I would fire my gun and run, but things did not turn out that way, for when the object came to within fifty yards of me, I saw it was a vehicle of some kind, so I straightened up and yelled as loud as I could: ‘Halt! who comes there?’ The music ceased all of a sudden, and a voice deep and strong said:

‘Whoa, mule! 'Fore de Lord, what is dat? I guess it is one of dem soldiers. It is a market cart from Princess Anne county, God bless you.’

I then said: ‘Advance, market cart from Princess Anne county, and give the countersign.’

‘De what, sah?’

‘Advance, and give the countersign.’

‘I declare 'fore de Lord, I ain't got none of dem things in my [351] cart. You can come and see for yourself. I is only got some collards and English peas and a few 'taters.’

I told the old man that he would nave to go with me to the officer in charge. As we went along, I asked him if he saw any Yanks down the road, and he wanted to know ‘what dey looks like.’ I asked him why he made so much noise. He said:‘I was whistling and keeping time wid de step of de mule and de rattling of de cart.’

The winter of 1861 and 1862 was spent in quarters at the intrenched camp, about one and a half miles from Norfolk. We only played soldiers, and tried to pass away the time, as only men can do without the presence of ladies, playing all sorts of pranks and jokes on our comrades.

On the evening of March 7, 1862, it was reported that the war vessel, Virginia, would go down to the Roads and clean up everything, and take Fort Monroe. I do believe that nine-tenths of the regiment were at Sewell's Point by 10 o'clock next morning. We did not have to wait long before we saw such a comical looking object going to do battle against five or six splendid war vessels, any one of which would make two of her.

It was our opinion that it would only take just five minutes to knock her out. We were disappointed, and so was the Federal commodore, for he soon lost two fine ships, and the third was knocked to pieces, and, if it had not been for a little thing called the monitor, that looked to us from where we were like a good-sized wash tub, the commodore would not have had a plank to stand on. It was here that most of the boys saw and heard the messengers of death for the first time. While we were busy looking at the naval engagement a shell, sent from the Rip Rips, came over and exploded in about fifty yards of us, throwing great quantities of sand, some falling on us, leaving a hole large enough to put a Princess Anne market cart, negro and mule in. Alas! Comrade George I and myself commenced getting gray from that date.

From this date on we had only two more months of this happy life, when one morning by light we were ordered to pack up, as Norfolk was going to be evacuated. I only had one sweetheart (some of the boys had five), and she told me I could not kiss her until I grew a moustache. I could not wait so long, for I did not even have a frize, so, I had to be satisfied with a gentle pressure of the hand and the sweet old word ‘good-bye.’ [352]

This time we had a genuine march of twenty-two miles from Portsmouth to Suffolk through a level, sandy country, the sand being about four inches deep. We soon found out it was much easier to carry twenty pounds than sixty, and there was enough extra clothing thrown away on this march to have supplied the entire regiment in 1864—everything pertaining to a man's dressing case and wardrobe from a shaving mug to a pigeon-tail coat.

We halted at——Hill to rest and recruit. It was here we had to eat our first hard tack and wash it down with water alone. On this march the perspiration was wiped off with nice cambric handkerchiefs and then thrown over the neck to keep the collar clean.

I can see in my mind's eye our gallant little Lieutenant Tommy with his pants turned up to keep them from getting soiled, showing so small a foot that it was a wonder that it could carry him so far, his erect form and elastic step, never forgetting the twenty-eight from toe to heel; smiling at those who were marching in order, encouraging those who were really broken down, and giving goss to the laggard that did not have a cause. If there had been more officers like him the private soldiers' life would have been much more pleasant.

We reached Suffolk late that night, and had to sleep wherever we could, with the canopy of heaven above and mother earth as our bed. Next morning you could have seen before sun up 100 men around an old pump clipping blisters and bathing their chafed limbs.

We took the train here for Petersburg with much joy. Twenty days from this date the boys found what they had been thirteen months looking for, seven miles below Richmond, at Seven Pines, viz.: a live Yankee on the ground (we had seen some on water), and the supply was greater than the demand. If all felt as I did, they had much rather found them dead than alive. When at Norfolk it was a common saying that one Reb could lick five Yanks. I found out one was just as many as I cared to tackle at a time. In consequence of my getting too close to some one with a loaded gun, I was sent to Chimborazo Hospital, near Richmond, which was on the same spot where the beautiful park of the same name now is. If that place could only speak, what a tale of woe and sorrow it could tell.

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.
Lafayette Grays (4)
Tommy (3)
Robert N. Northen (3)
Yanks (2)
Pickett (2)
S. M. Thompson (1)
Reb (1)
Fore Lord (1)
De Lord (1)
Charles T. Loehr (1)
Lucas George (1)
G. T. Beauregard (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: