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Chapter 10:

  • Change of base.
  • -- Crossing of the Shenandoah. -- fights in Loudoun and Fauquier. -- Crossing of the Rappahannock. -- fights in the region between the Hazel and Rappahannock rivers. -- headquarters near Culpepper Court-house. -- my departure for Richmond. -- fights at the Pothouse and Aldie. -- reception at Middleburg.

General McClellan, the Federal Commander-in-Chief, having largely reinforced his army with regiments from the new levy of 300,000 volunteers called out for nine months, and having brought it to a strength of 140,000 men, well equipped in every respect, had at last determined upon a forward movement, all unknowing at the time that the supreme command was soon to be taken from him by the Government at Washington. The right wing of the Federal forces, by a strong demonstration towards Harper's Ferry, made a show of invading Virginia from this point, but the great bulk of the army crossed the Potomac about fifteen miles lower down, near the little town of Berlin. General Lee, having been opportunely informed by his vigilant cavalry of the enemy's operations, had commenced, in the mean time, a movement on the opposite side of the Blue Ridge, in a nearly parallel direction towards Front Royal, being about a day's [227] march ahead. Longstreet's corps was in the advance, Jackson's troops following slowly, covering the rear, and still holding the passes of the Blue Ridge, Snicker's, Ashby's and Chester Gaps. The cavalry under Stuart had orders to cross the Ridge at Snicker's Gap, to watch closely the movements of the enemy, retard him as much as possible, and protect the left flank of our army.

So we rode quietly along in the tracks of our horsemen, who, before the Staff had left “The Bower,” had proceeded in the direction of Berryville. Our mercurial soldiers were as gay as ever, and even the most sentimental members of the Staff had rallied from the despondence incidental to departure from our late encampment, when during the afternoon we reached en route the little town of Smithfield, where, under Bob Sweeney's direction as impresario, we managed to get up a serenade for the amiable widow who had entertained me with such hospitality.

Meanwhile the rain, which had been falling when we rode off from “The Bower,” had ceased, a keen north wind had set in, and it had begun to freeze hard, when, late at night, we reached Berryville, chilled, wet, and hungry. The provisions of the country had been more or less consumed by the troops who had preceded us on the march, and it was therefore regarded as exceedingly apropos that we were invited to supper by a prominent citizen, at whose pleasant house we greatly enjoyed a warm cup of tea, a capital old Virginia ham, and afterwards a pipe of Virginia tobacco before a roaring wood-fire.

Our troops bivouacked about two miles from town; and as on a march, for the sake of the example, we never took up our quarters beneath a roof, we left our hospitable entertainer about midnight, and established ourselves in an open field under some old locust-trees, near several large fodderstacks, which furnished us with abundant food for our [228] horses. It was a clear, cold, starlight night, and as we had no protection from the frost but our blankets, we kept in lively blaze several tremendous fires, the wood for which each and every one of us had assisted in collecting. General and Staff were all fast asleep, when, on a sudden, we were aroused by a loud crash, which startled even the feeding horses and mules. One of the old hollow trees, against the trunk of which our largest fire had been imprudently kindled, after smouldering for hours, had at last yielded to the force of the wind and fallen heavily to the ground, fortunately without doing any damage whatever.

In the early morning, when we awoke to the reveille, the fires had quite burnt out, a white hoar-frost lay thickly over every object around us, and the shivering officers of our military family expressed in every feature their ardent desire for a good warm breakfast. As we were discussing the probabilities of such a thing, we were most agreeably surprised by the kind invitation of a neighbouring planter to satisfy ourselves at his hospitable board, an invitation which we did not hesitate to accept. To provide against a future want of breakfast, when a good Samaritan might not be so near at hand, our careful mess-caterer, the portly doctor of our Staff, availed himself of the opportunity of purchasing a quantity of hams and bacon, which, being deposited for safety in an army-waggon, were stolen before two hours had elapsed by some of our rascally negro camp-followers.

The sun shone down with the warmth and glory of the soft Indian summer, a season of peculiar loveliness in America, when we reached the Shenandoah, our passage of which was extremely picturesque. The banks of this beautiful stream are often bold, and sometimes even majestic, the current breaking through gigantic cliffs which rise to the height of several hundred feet on either side, or flowing placidly along between wooded shores, whose stately trees, where the river is narrowest, [229] almost intermingle their branches. The forests skirting the course of the Shenandoah were now glowing with the gorgeous hues of the American autumn, which the landscapepainter cannot adequately reproduce nor the writer properly describe. The light saffron of the chestnut-trees was in effective contrast with the rich crimson of the oaks and maples, while the trailing vines and parasites displayed every tint from the palest pink to the deepest purple. Upon the opposite shore, at a distance of only a few hundred yards from the margin of the river, rose the mountain-range of the Blue Ridge thickly covered with forest, within whose depths the head of our column was just disappearing as we arrived at the bank. The main body was passing the stream, while here and there a single trooper might be seen watering his horse or quietly examining his weapons.

On the summit of the mountain we found a portion of our Maryland cavalry, which, having been stationed there to guard Snicker's Gap, had been engaged in a sharp conflict with a party of Federal cavalry that disputed its possession, and had driven back their opponents with severe loss. Dead bodies of men and animals, lying still unburied along the road, gave evidence of the obstinacy of the fight on both sides. The Federal army in its forward movement had meanwhile made but slow progress, the main body having proceeded no farther than Leesburg and its immediate neighbourhood, only a few detachments of cavalry having advanced beyond that point. So we continued our march wholly without interruption all the beautiful autumn day through the smiling county of Loudoun, one of the fairest and most fertile regions in Virginia, passing many fine estates with extensive corn-fields and large orchards, until we arrived in the evening in the vicinity of the little village of Upperville, where we bivouacked, and without difficulty obtained abundant provisions for our men and forage for our animals. [230]

The counties of Loudoun and Fauquier had known but little as yet of the devastations of the war, and abounded in supplies of every description, which were eagerly offered for sale by the farmers at moderate prices, and might have subsisted our army for six months. Instead of being permitted to profit by this plenty, we had been compelled for the past two months, through the mismanagement and want of experience of the officials of the Quartermaster's Department at Richmond, and against the earnest remonstrances of General Lee, to draw all our supplies from the capital, whence they were sent by rail to Staunton, there to be packed into waggons and deported beyond Winchester, a distance of more than one hundred miles after leaving the railroad. The subsistence which was so near at hand was thus left for the enemy, by whom it was afterwards used to the greatest advantage. The importance, nay the necessity, in a war of such magnitude, carried on over so vast and thinly-populated a territory, of establishing great magazines for the collection and storage of provisions for the army, very often occurred to me during the struggle in America, and I have, on several occasions, expressed my opinion with regard to it. Had the Confederate authorities, following Napoleon's example, established at the beginning of the war (when it might easily have been done) large depots of army-supplies at points not exposed, like Richmond, to raids of cavalry, I am convinced that it would have had a material influence on the final issue of the great conflict. The difficulties that were experienced during the last two years of the war in supporting the army, and the terrible privations to which men and animals were subjected in consequence of early maladministration and neglect, can be known only to those who were eyewitnesses of the misfortune and participants in the suffering.

Having sent out a strong cordon of pickets from our place [231] of bivouac near Upperville, General Stuart yielded to the urgent solicitations of Dr Eliason, our staff-surgeon, to ride with him to his home in the village, and spend the evening and night at his house. As I was included in the invitation, I bore them company. We were received very cordially by the ladies of the doctor's family, and many others, who, as soon as our arrival was known, had flocked to the mansion. I very quickly secured for myself the friendship of Dr Eliason's little daughter, a child of ten years of age, who suffered under the sad infirmity of blindness. With the most eager interest she listened to the words of the foreign soldier, whom she required to give her an exact description of his personal appearance; and I was deeply touched as I looked into those tender, rayless blue eyes which gave back no answering glance to my own, and which were yet bent towards me with such seeming intelligence. How little I thought, as I enjoyed the hospitality of these kind people, that nine months later I was to be brought to their house prostrated by a wound which the surgeons declared to be mortal, and that I was to be received by them with an affectionate sympathy such as they could only be expected to manifest for a near and dear relative!

31st October.

Our horses stood at the door of Dr Eliason's house at the hour of sunrise, and a short gallop brought us to the bivouac of our horsemen, whom we at once aroused to activity with orders for immediate saddling. As Messieurs the Yankees were so long in finding us out, General Stuart had determined to look after them; and in a few minutes our column, animated by the hope of again meeting the enemy, was in [232] motion along the road leading to the little town of Union, about midway between Upperville and Leesburg, near which latter place we were quite sure of encountering them. We reached Union at noon, where we came to a halt, sending out in various directions scouts and patrols, who speedily reported that the main body of the Federal cavalry were at Aldie, where they were feeding their horses, having arrived there since morning, but that a squadron of them was three miles nearer to us at a farm known as Pothouse. Towards this squadron we started immediately, and, moving upon byroads, arrived within a few hundred yards of them before they had any idea of our approach. Their earliest warning of danger was the wild Confederate yell with which our advance-guard dashed upon them in the charge. They belonged to the 3d Indiana Cavalry, a regiment which we had often met in battle, and which always fought with great steadiness and courage. I could not resist joining in the attack upon our old enemies, and was soon in the midst of the fight. This lasted, however, only a few minutes. After a short but gallant resistance, the Federal lines were broken, a great part of the men were cut down or taken prisoners, and the rest of them driven into rapid flight, pursued closely by the Confederates.

Captain Farley1 and myself, being the foremost of the pursuers, had a very exciting chase of the captain commanding the Federal squadron, who, at every demand that we made for his surrender, only spurred his horse into a more furious gallop, occasionally turning to fire at us with his [233] revolver. But each moment I got nearer and nearer to him; the long strides of my charger at last brought me to his side; and I was just raising myself in the saddle to put an end to the chase with a single stroke of my sabre, when, at the crack of Farley's pistol, the fugitive, shot through the back, tumbled from his horse in the dust.

Yet a little further Farley and myself continued in pursuit of the flying Federals, and then returned to rejoin General Stuart. While slowly retracing my steps, I discovered the unfortunate captain, lying against the fence on the roadside, apparently in great agony, and evidently enough in a most uncomfortable situation. Desirous of doing all that I could to alleviate his misery, I alighted from my horse and raised the poor fellow into an easier recumbent position, despatching at the same time one of my couriers to our staff-surgeon, Dr Eliason, with the request that he would come to me as speedily as possible. The wounded officer seemed to me in a state of delirium, calling out, as he did, to every passing horseman, that the rebels who had killed him were about to rob him also, and scattering his personal effects, his watch, money, &c., in the road, so that I had some difficulty in saving them for him. One of our orderlies, who had galloped up, begged me to give him the captain's canteen, it being a very large and handsome one. This of course I refused, the more decidedly as the poor fellow had been crying out continually for drink, and, resting upon my arm, had already nearly exhausted the canteen of its contents. In a few moments Dr Eliason came up, and, having examined the [234] wound, said to me, “Major, this man is mortally wounded, but what you have taken for delirium is nothing more than a very deep state of intoxication, which had commenced before the shot was received.” I did not at once fully credit this medical opinion, and my surprise was therefore great when, taking a smell of the canteen, which I had supposed to contain water, I found that it had been filled with strong apple-brandy, which the unfortunate man had snatched at in his dying moments. When the next morning I sent his efforts to the temporary field-hospital, to which he had been conveyed over night, I received the report that he had died before day-break, still heavily intoxicated. Fortunately, we were enabled to find out his address, and had the satisfaction of sending his valuables to his family in Indiana.

Our squadron that had been sent in chase of the Yankees, having continued the game into the village of Aldie, and having been much scattered by the length of the pursuit, was met at that place by a fresh body of Federal horse, and easily repulsed. But our main column was very soon at hand for its protection, and reached a range of hills overlooking the village, in time to see a force of several thousand of the enemy's cavalry advancing in beautiful lines across an open field on the right. The fight was at once opened with great spirit by Pelham's guns, which met with a furious response from several Federal batteries, and we were soon hotly engaged all along our line of battle. The enemy's resistance was obstinate; charges and counter-charges were made over the plateau in our front, and for a time the issue seemed doubtful, no decided advantage having been gained on either [235] side. At last, however, we succeeded in driving the Yankees back into the woods, and before sunset they were in full retreat, by the road they had come, towards Leesburg. Our flying artillery, under the intrepid and energetic John Pelham, whom I have so often had occasion to mention in these memoirs, had, as usual, done admirable service, disabling several of the enemy's guns, and contributing greatly, by the terror it carried into their advancing columns, to the final result.2 About dusk in the evening we marched back along the road to Middleburg, near which place General Stuart intended to encamp, having ordered me to gallop ahead of the column into the village to make the necessary arrangements for food and forage with the Cavalry Quartermaster stationed there.

Middleburg is a pleasant little place, of some 500 inhabitants, which, by reason of its proximity to the Federal lines, had often been visited by raiding and scouting parties of the enemy, and had suffered specially in the shameless barbarities committed by those Yankee robbers, Milroy and Geary. The citizens had awaited the result of our late combat with the greatest anxiety, and manifested their satisfaction at our success in loud expressions of rejoicing. Riding up the main street of the village, I was brought to a halt by a group of very pretty young girls, who were carrying refreshments to the soldiers, and invited me to partake of them, an offer which I was not strong enough to decline. In the conversation which followed, my fair entertainers expressed the greatest desire to see General Stuart, and were delighted beyond measure to [236] hear that the bold cavalry leader was my personal friend, and that I should probably have little difficulty in persuading him to devote a quarter of an hour to their charming company. This spread like wildfire through the village, so that half an hour later, when Stuart galloped up to me, I was attended by a staff of fifty or sixty ladies, of various ages, from blooming girlhood to matronly maturity. The General very willingly consented to remain for a while that every one might have an opportunity of seeing him, and was immediately surrounded by the ladies, all eager to catch the words that fell from his lips, and many with tears in their eyes kissing the skirt of his uniform coat or the glove upon his hand. This was too much for the gallantry of our leader, who smilingly said to his gentle admirers, “Ladies, your kisses would be more acceptable to me if given upon the cheek.” Thereupon the attacking force wavered and hesitated for a moment; but an elderly lady, breaking through the ranks, advanced boldly, and, throwing her arms around Stuart's neck, gave him a hearty smack, which served as the signal for a general charge. The kisses now popped in rapid succession like musketry, and at last became volleys, until our General was placed under as hot a fire as I had ever seen him sustain on the field of battle. When all was over, and we had mounted our horses, Stuart, who was more or less exhausted, said to me, “Von, this is a pretty little trick you have played me, but in future I shall detail you for this sort of service.” I answered that I would enter upon it with infinite pleasure, provided he would permit me to reverse his mode of procedure, and commence with [237] the young ladies. The General and Staff bivouacked with the cavalry near Middleburg, while for me was reserved the agreeable duty of riding on special business to Upperville, where, beneath the hospitable roof of Dr Eliason, I passed some pleasant hours with the family circle, to whom I had to recite fully the events and adventures of the day.

1 Captain Farley, who served as a volunteer aide-de-camp on the Staff of General Stuart, was a very remarkable young man. He was by birth a South Carolinian, but he entered the service quite independently of all State military organisations. Promotions and commissions had been frequently offered him by the General, but he refused them all, preferring to be bound to no particular line of duty, but to fight, to use an American phrase, “on his own hook.” He was accustomed to go entirely alone upon the most dangerous scouting expeditions. With his own hand he had killed more than thirty of his country's enemies, and had never received the slightest injury, until June 1863, when, in the great cavalry battle at Brandy Station a shell from a Federal battery terminated his heroic exploits with his life. Captain Farley was of medium stature, but he was sinewy, and strongly built, and capable of great endurance. His expression of countenance was singularly winning, and had something of feminine tenderness; indeed, it seemed difficult to believe that this boy, with the long fair hair, the mild blue eyes, the soft voice and modest mien, was the daring dragoon whose appearance in battle was always terrible to the foe.

2 The famous Stuart horse artillery was made up of volunteers of many nationalities, and embraced Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Spainards, and Americans. Many of these men had not brought to the standard under which they served an immaculate reputation, but they distinguished themselves on every field of battle, and established such an enviable character for daring and good conduct that the body was soon regarded as a corps daelite by the whole army, and it came to be considered an honour to be one of them. I have often seen these men serving their pieces in the hottest of the fight, laughing, singing, and joking each other, utterly regardless of the destruction which cannon-shot and musket-ball were making in their ranks. They were devoted to their young chief, John Pelham, whom an English writer, Captain Chesney, justly styles “the boy hero;” and as they knew my intimacy with him, and as in many engagements we had fought side by side, they extended something of this partiality to myself, and whenever I galloped up to the batteries during a battle, or passed them on the march, addressing a friendly salutation in English, French, or German, to such of them as I knew best, I was always received with loud cheering. They called Pelham and myself, in honourable association, “our fighting Majors,” and after my dear friend's death, and when I had myself been disabled by wounds, I often received letters from the braves of the Stuart horse artillery written in a style sufficiently inelegant and extraordinary, but expressive of the sincerest sympathy and attachment.

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