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Chapter 12:

  • Night-ride to Jackson's camp.
  • -- return across the Mountains. -- we are cut off by the enemy. -- fight at Barber's cross-roads. -- retreat towards Orleans and across the Rappahannock. -- fights near Waterloo Bridge and Jefferson. -- Crossing of the Hazel river. -- bivouac in the snow. -- scout with General Stuart. -- headquarters near Culpepper Court-house. -- reconnaissance in force, and fight near Emmetsville.

4th November.

The deep sleep which succeeded to the fatigues of the previous day had hardly fallen upon me, when I was aroused by the touch of Stuart's hand upon my shoulder. The General's wish was that I should bear him company, with several of our couriers and Dr Eliason, who was well acquainted with all the roads in the neighbouring county, to the headquarters of General Jackson, who had encamped about twelve miles off, on the opposite side of the Shenandoah, near the village of Millwood. The command of our cavalry had been temporarily transferred to Colonel Rosser, who had instructions to hold his position as long as possible, and to keep General Stuart informed by frequent messengers of the progress of the impending fight. [251]

A cold wind was blowing in our faces as we trotted through the village of Paris in the direction of the Shenandoah, and it was freezing hard when we reached the stream, about midnight, at a point where ordinarily it was easily fordable, but where we found it so much swollen by the recent rains in the mountains that we were compelled to cross it swimming. We reached the opposite bank in safety, but chilled through and with soaking garments. Such was the intensity of the frost, that in a very few minutes our cloaks and blankets were frozen quite stiff; and the water, as it dripped from the flanks of our horses, congealed into icicles, and the legs of the animals were rough with ice. But a sharp ride, as it promoted the circulation of the blood, kept us tolerably warm, and at two o'clock in the morning we arrived at Jackson's encampment. Stuart, being unwilling in his great tenderness for Old Stonewall to disturb his slumbers, proposed that we should seek rest for the remaining hours of the night; but in our frozen condition, it being first necessary that we should thaw out our garments before we could dry them, we preferred building a huge fire of logs, around whose cheerful blaze we sat and smoked our pipes, though, with teeth chattering like castanets, this was smoking under difficulties. Jackson, who, in accordance with his usual habit, awoke with the easiest glimmer of day, no sooner discovered us than he expressed his regret at our evident discomfort, but gave us the readiest consolation by ordering breakfast to be immediately prepared. Nothing was better calculated to restore our good spirits than the summons to the General's large breakfast-table, where the aroma rose in clouds of vapour from an immense coffee-pot, and where stood a magnificent haunch of venison, cold, a present from a neighbouring planter.

The good cheer had the happiest effect on Stuart, who enlivened our repast with abundant anecdote and the recital [252] of many a joke at the expense of his companions-in-arms. It was his special delight to tease me on account of the little mistakes I still frequently committed in speaking the English language, which he always cleverly turned so as to excite the merriment of his auditors. During one of our many conversations concerning Old Stonewall, his personal traits and military character, while intending to say, “It warms my heart when he talks to me,” I had employed the expression, “It makes my heart burn,” &c. Stuart now took occasion to repeat my remark, and presented me most absurdly as having declared that “it gave me the heartburn to hear Jackson talk,” which of course provoked the roaring laughter of our little company. Jackson himself alone did not participate in the boisterous mirth. Looking me straight in the face with his large expressive eyes, and pressing my hand warmly across the table as just the faintest smile broke over his features, he said, “Never care, Major, for Stuart's jokes; we understand each other, and I am proud of the friendship of so good a soldier and so daring a cavalier as you are.” I was conscious of a blush reddening my cheeks under my beard at this, but I felt also a glow of pride, and I would not at that moment have exchanged the simple, earnest tribute of the great warrior for all the orders and crosses of honour of Europe. “Hurrah for old Von! And now let us be off,” said Stuart, and slapping me on the back to conceal his own slight embarrassment, he rose from the table, followed by his companions. In a few minutes we rode off at a gallop to fresh scenes of excitement and activity.

In Virginia the vicissitudes of temperature are great and sudden, the weather frequently changing from biting frost to genial warmth in a few hours; and we experienced this pleasant alternation as we rode forth into the brilliant sunshine of the clear November morning. To avoid the disagreeable passage of the river by swimming our horses, [253] General Stuart had determined to cross higher up, where the Shenandoah might be forded without difficulty, and we continued our ride through the rich country on the left bank, passing the pleasant little hamlet of White Post on our route, until mid-day, when we made an easy ford, and soon after partook of a hasty dinner at a hospitable mansion most picturesquely situated on the very margin of the beautiful stream. Here I could not resist purchasing for our mess-table two of a flock of fat turkeys, which, tied together by the legs, I carried for a while thrown across the pommel of my saddle. The fowls gave me so much annoyance, however, by the flapping of their wings, that I was glad to give them in charge to one of our couriers, who quieted their motions very speedily by the simple expedient of cutting off their heads with his pocket-knife.

The son of the gentleman who entertained us at dinner, being thoroughly familiar with the bridlepaths across the mountains, offered himself as our guide to save us the long detour of the common highway, and his services were thankfully accepted. So we pursued our course along the rough mountain-side, but seldom touched by human foot, and, as we rode, enjoyed frequent opportunities of admiring the wild and wonderful scenery of the majestic Blue Ridge. Climbing up steep banks and skirting dizzy precipices, we were often obliged to cut our way with our sabres through the dense entanglement of bushes and vines, many of the latter heavy with clusters of small dark-blue grapes. A rolling cannonade, borne to us from the direction of Ashby's Gap, hurried us on our toilsome and difficult way, and about five o'clock in the afternoon we reached the summit of the mountain. The view we obtained from this point was surely the most magnificent I have ever witnessed. For many, many miles beneath us lay the sumptuous valley, in the full gorgeousness of its rich and varied autumnal hues, spread out like an immense gailycoloured [254] Persian carpet, and through the middle space, like a stripe of green, ran the emerald-tinted Shenandoah, winding away to the remote distance where the plain was fringed by a range of wooded mountains, whose soft, waving line of horizon was reddened and gilded by the sunset. Our admiration of this glorious prospect gave place to something like bewildered astonishment when, immediately below us, only a few thousand feet from the spot we occupied, we discovered the dark masses of the enemy with glittering arms and fluttering pennons, and beyond them the rapidly-disappearing lines of our horsemen, the smoke rising at many points from the muzzles of our guns as the artillery covered the retreat of their comrades. Stuart gave me a significant look, and said very quietly, “The Yankees have taken Ashby's Gap-Rosser is retreating, and we are completely cut off.” Our situation was indeed full of danger. The enemy was so near us that we might expect to come upon one of their scouting-parties at any moment; our volunteer guide had no knowledge of the mountain-roads on our right; to procure other guides was a matter of great difficulty, as only a few herdsmen lived so high up on the mountain, and these would have been restrained by no sense of patriotic duty from betraying us into the hands of the Yankees; and to ride back to Jackson and join our horsemen again involved a circuitous and fatiguing journey of sixty or eighty miles, could we even make this without interruption. Yet it was of the utmost importance that Stuart should be with his command again before morning.

Meanwhile, as night was rapidly approaching, we recognised the necessity of coming to some conclusion, and it was finally determined that we should disperse over the ridge in various directions, in the hope that some one of our party might fall in with a mountaineer whom we should force to guide us, and that a whistle twice repeated should be the [255] signal for reuniting at a point where Stuart himself should remain that he might watch closely the movements of the enemy. After much unsuccessful riding about over the rocks and through the forest, I was fortunate enough to pick up a fellow of exceedingly wild and haggard appearance, with garments “all tattered and torn,” who, upon my approach, endeavoured to slip away from me in the bushes, but who came to a better mind when he saw my revolver levelled at his head. At the appointed signal we soon came together again, when General Stuart explained to my trembling captive that if he would guide us over the mountains on our right to a point from which we could reach Barber's Cross Roads, the supposed new position of Fitz Lee's brigade, without bringing us in contact with the Yankees, he should receive an ample reward; but that should he intentionally mislead and betray us, he should be shot down without hesitation. Under the joint influence of fear and avarice, the poor devil became voluble with promises of fidelity, and we started at once on our hazardous march, one of us riding just before and another just behind the guide with cocked pistols, to prevent his escaping into the dense undergrowth on either side of the narrow path. In many places the road was barred by immense boulders or became too steep to ascend on horseback, so that we were compelled to dismount and lead our horses. The briars and brambles scratched our hands and faces, and made sad work with our uniforms.

The night had now deepened into great darkness, and we expected momentarily to lose our way or tumble over one of the frightful precipices along the verge of which we had to pass. But, surmounting all difficulties and escaping all dangers, we at last reached the foot of the Blue Ridge, near the small village of Macon, at a short distant from which place we saw a large camp-fire, and in the glare of the flames discovered a group of soldiers around it. We halted, of [256] course, at once, and with a proper precaution sent forward on foot one of our couriers to ascertain whether the men before us were friends or foes. After a few minutes of extreme anxiety on our part, the courier came back with the pleasing intelligence that all was right, as the picket in sight consisted of soldiers belonging to the division of General D. H. Hill, who had retired in the direction of Front Royal, but was still holding Manassas Gap. Dr Eliason being now fully acquainted with the neighbourhood, we dismissed our mountaineer, who evinced great delight when General Stuart handed him a fifty-dollar note for his services.

The perils of our journey, however, were by no means yet over, as we had still a long distance to ride outside our own, and very near the enemy's, lines, whose numerous camp-fires were often plainly to be seen on the mountain-side; but after our advance-guard of two couriers had several times brought us to a halt through false alarms, and, blinded by the intense darkness of the night, had fired again and again at imaginary Yankees, we arrived without further adventure, about midnight, at Barber's Cross Roads. Here we learned, to the surprise and indignation of General Stuart, that tony one of our squadrons was on picket at the place, and that Colonel Rosser, with the rest of his brigade, had fallen back seven miles farther, to the immediate vicinity of the small town of Orleans. Wearied out of the fatigues of the day, I was just looking out for a suitable spot for my night's rest, when Stuart, who was in no good humour, called to me, saying, “Major, I desire that you will ride at once to Colonel Rosser, and order him to report to me instantly in person, leaving instructions for Lee's brigade to follow without delay, that we may be ready to receive the enemy at this place at daylight. I am determined not to retire without fighting, and shall give battle to the Yankees here to-morrow.” Thinking of the fifteen long miles that my faithful but exhausted charger must [257] yet perform, I started rather unwillingly and slowly; but I had not gone two hundred yards when a courier rode up to me with the message from Stuart to go on as rapidly as possible, regardless of the life of my horse. So I drove the spurs into his flanks, and went off at a gallop through the dark pine-forests that skirted the road on either side, until I reached Orleans, and with some difficulty found the headquarters of Colonel Rosser. This officer was exceedingly annoyed at being aroused from his comfortable repose, having gone into bivouac under the impression that he had operated with great wisdom and circumspection. The urgency of my instructions, however, soon brought him into the saddle. His adjutants quickly conveyed the necessary orders to the regiments of his brigade, and the Colonel and I trotted off together ahead of the column to Barber's Cross Roads.

Rosser had been compelled, after a gallant resistance, to give way before the superior numbers of his assailants, having sent during the day reports to General Stuart by several couriers, all of whom had either missed their way or fallen into the hands of the enemy. Upon our arrival at the Cross Roads, we found Stuart, and our comrades of his Staff, wrapped in the profoundest slumber upon the portico of a small farmhouse. When I had succeeded in awakening my chief, and had taken due care of my horse, I drew my blankets closely around me, and, wearied with a ride of more than fifty miles, stretched my limbs on the hard ground, in the hope of gaining some refreshment for the inevitable rough work of the coming day.

5th November.

The bugle sounding to saddle cruelly cut short my slumbers with the dawn, and a few minutes afterwards we galloped up [258] to Fitz Lee's brigade, which, according to orders, occupied its position on the cross road. We now found, to our inexpressible delight, that Hampton's brigade, which, having been detached to our infantry, had been separated from us during the past week, had also arrived on the spot; and the hearty welcome we gave them attested the new hope and confidence as to the issue of the impending conflict which their presence inspired.

General Hampton had been ordered to form the right wing of our line of battle, and I accompanied him upon a little reconnaissance to a slight eminence, from which we could narrowly watch the approach of the vast numbers of the enemy. With his battery he had two 15-pounder brass guns, imported by him from Europe at his own expense, that were remarkable for their long range and accuracy of aim, but were too heavy for flying artillery. These pieces, being at once placed in position at our point of survey, speedily commenced the fight, and their fire being energetically returned by the Yankees, there ensued a tremendous cannonade. Ere long Stuart joined us, with all the other members of his Staff, and our group of horsemen attracting the attention of the enemy's artillerists, we were honoured forthwith with several cannonballs, which came whistling high over our heads, and gave us small concern. Suddenly, however, a percussion shell whizzed very close to us, and, striking a small locust-tree at a distance of about twenty yards, sent its iron hail right into the midst of our party. We looked at each other with startled apprehension, scarcely deeming it possible but that some one of our number had been struck. In the most wonderful way all had escaped. My horse was the only sufferer, as one of the fragments of the shell had cut a deep gash in his right hind-leg. Finding that fortunately no bone or sinew had been injured, I staunched the wound by tying my pockethandkerchief [259] around the limb, and I was thus able to ride my brave animal, despite his lameness, throughout the day.

The fight soon became very spirited, and our sharpshooters repulsed with great success and fatal effect the repeated charges of the Federal cavalry. One squadron of the Yankees especially was severely punished for their audacity in charging up the turnpike road upon a strong barricade which we had hastily erected. In front they were received with a most destructive fire, while a detachment of our horse attacked them at the same moment in the rear, sabring or taking prisoners the larger number of these dashing dragoons. The enemy continuing to be largely reinforced from time to time, General Stuart gave about mid-day the order for the retreat towards Orleans, which was commenced under the heaviest fire of the enemy's batteries. Here occurred a very curious incident. One of the horsemen of our retiring column was so instantaneously killed by a bullet through the brain, that his rapidly-stiffening limbs held him for a considerable time in the saddle, and he was sitting bolt upright upon his horse dead-stone dead-several minutes before his comrades on the right and left discovered that he had been struck. Frequently upon our retreat our pursuers pressed us so closely that we were compelled to turn round and engage them hand to hand; but they came at last to a halt, so that upon reaching Orleans we had an hour to rest the men and feed the horses. General Stuart and Staff were invited to dinner at a stately old country-house, half a mile from the village, where dwelt a venerable lady, Mrs M., whose native dignity of manner and kindliness of disposition greatly won our respect and gratitude. The following day this house was occupied by the Yankees, and a detachment of the New York Zouaves acted towards its inmates with the greatest barbarity. After the greater portion of the furniture had been broken to pieces and completely destroyed by them in mere wanton [260] malice, one of these brutes demanded of the old lady where she had hid her silver, and upon her answering him quietly that it had been long ago sent to a place of safety, struck her a blow with the butt of his musket, under which she fell senseless into the arms of her daughters.

Throughout the afternoon we continued our retreat towards Waterloo Bridge, which we crossed at night, and in the vicinity of which our troops bivouacked. The General and Staff proceeded a mile farther on, and established their headquarters at the house of a Mr M., where we had at last an opportunity of cooking and devouring the turkeys of which mention has been made. Mr M.‘s house was a few days later burned by the Yankees for the hospitality he had shown us.

During the night there came a telegram for General Stuart, which, in accordance with his instructions, habitually observed by me, I opened with his other despatches, and found to contain the most painful intelligence. It announced the death of little Flora, our chief's lovely and dearly-loved daughter, five years of age, the favourite of her father and of his military family. This sweet child had been dangerously ill for some time, and more than once had Mrs Stuart summoned her husband to Flora's bedside; but she received only the response of the true soldier, “My duty to the country must be performed before I can give way to the feelings of the father.” I went at once to acquaint my General with the terrible tidings, and when I had awakened him, perceiving from the grave expression of my features that something had gone wrong, he said, “What is it, Major? Are the Yankees advancing?” I handed him the telegram without a word. He read it, and the tenderness of the father's heart overcoming the firmness of the warrior, he threw his arms around my neck, and wept bitter tears upon my breast. My dear General never recovered from this cruel blow. Many a time afterwards, during our rides together, he would speak to me of his [261] lost child. Light-blue flowers recalled her eyes to him; in the glancing sunbeams he caught the golden tinge of her hair; and whenever he saw a child with such eyes and hair, he could not help tenderly embracing it. He thought of her even on his deathbed, when, drawing me towards him, he whispered, “My dear friend, I shall soon be with little Flora again.”

6th and 7th November.

The morning of the following day, to our great surprise, passed quietly, and we were enabled to take up our old line of defence at Waterloo Bridge, sending out scouts and patrols in the direction of the enemy. One of the latter was fortunate enough to capture and bring off a Yankee waggon, which gave us a good supply of Havana cigars, and contained, among other articles, a large number of fine bowie-knives. For a long time afterwards, each of us carried one of these knives in his belt, finding it extremely serviceable, not as an offensive weapon against the Yankees, but for the cutting of the very tough beef which, during the next month, formed the greater part of our rations. The bowie-knife occupied a somewhat conspicuous place in the earlier annals of the war, and we were often told of Louisianians, Mississippians, and Texans who threw away their muskets in the hottest of the fight, and fell upon the enemy with their favourite weapon; but I have always regarded these stories in the same fabulous light with the stories of the bayonet conflicts to which I have before referred, and certainly I have never seen the bowieknife put to any other than a purely pacific and innocent use.

About mid-day we went across the river with one of our squadrons on a reconnaissance, and very soon afterwards met the advancing column of the enemy, which attacked us [262] vigorously, and, to the great mortification of General Stuart and myself, drove our men in disgraceful stampede, despite all our efforts to prevent it, back over the bridge. Here our pursuers were checked by the fire of our artillery and sharp-shooters, and the fight ere long raged with full fury all along the lines, being kept up, especially in the vicinity of the bridge, with great spirit until late in the evening. At dusk, General Stuart decided to continue the retreat. The bridge, having been prepared with combustibles for this event, was set on fire, and its blazing timbers fell with a loud crash into the waters of the Rappahannock as our column turned off in the direction of Jefferson. This hamlet, which lay eight miles distant towards Culpepper Court-house, we reached soon after dark. Here, as the enemy did not follow up the pursuit, our troops bivouacked for the necessary pickets had been established.

The night was extremely cold, and about ten o'clock a snow-storm set in with such severity that the General and his Staff took refuge in a deserted old wooden house, where, having with great trouble collected the fuel, we built immense wood-fires in the tumble-down chimneys. But we obtained little sleep. The storm raged all night; and as it howled around the dilapidated building, it made every rafter shake so threateningly that we looked for the edifice to fall in ruins about our heads at any moment, while the wind swept in wrath through the windows, wholly destitute of glass, bringing the snow in swirls into the cheerless apartments, which were so densely filled at times with smoke driven down the chimneys that we had to beat a rapid retreat into the tempest to escape suffocation. At daybreak the temperature became a little less severe, but a fine rain was now mingled with the snow, which soon wet us to the skin, and rendered the roads slippery and horrible in the extreme. It may be imagined that our horsemen did not make a very proud appearance when [263] our columns drew up to meet the advance of the enemy. Men and horses were muddy, draggled, and shivering, and both had been twenty-four hours without food.

The Yankees did not long keep us waiting for their attack, and at ten o'clock the fight was fully in progress, making us quite warm enough. Our resistance, however, was but a short one. General Stuart feared the rising of the Hazel river in his rear, and our artillery horses were scarcely able any longer to pull the guns through the miry roads. So greatly were we embarrassed on this account, that we had been obliged already to bury two of our pieces which we could not carry with us. About noon we again commenced the retreat, turning round and giving battle to the enemy whenever we were hard pressed by them. Late in the evening we reached the river, which we forded safely, but with some difficulty, and took a new position on the heights of the opposite shore, near the small village of Rixeville.

It was a sorry sight this crossing of the Hazel river. Our command, and especially Fitz Lee's brigade, had suffered severely from the continuous marching and fighting we had undergone, from the inclement wintry weather, and from scarcity of food. Many of our horses had been killed, and many more, broken down or lame, could only be led along. All the sick and disabled men, making up a body of nearly 500 non-combatants, were formed together into a corps which was jokingly called “Company Q,” and had been put in charge of Fitz Lee's gallant quartermaster, Major Mason. I felt no little anxiety until I saw the last of this large squad of limping men, leading crippled horses, safely on the other side of the river. I had often to urge the stragglers along by saying, “The Yankees are close upon you,” when they lingered to pluck the fruit of the numerous persimmon trees on either side of the road-fruit which the recent frosts had brought [264] plentifully to perfection, and which furnished a welcome though meagre repast of our famished troopers.1

The Yankees not making their appearance on the opposite bank of the Rappahannock, we left behind several squadrons and two pieces of artillery to guard the two nearest fords, and went at nightfall with the main body of our troops a few miles farther back, establishing our bivouac in a dense forest of oak and pine. The night set in cold again, and the rain changed to a heavy fall of snow, giving us every prospect of a most uncomfortable time of it. But the accustomed woodfire, with its immense pile of blazing logs, around which General and Staff and escort collected, kept us sufficiently warm. The bivouac itself was exceedingly picturesque. Many of the officers were enveloped in red blankets, worn in the Mexican fashion, falling from the shoulders, with a hole cut in the middle for the head of the wearer to come through. Others wore long overcoats, and wide-brimmed hats pulled over their faces. Among these groups were the negroes preparing supper; around us was the dark engirdling forest, the branches of the nearest trees white with the snow; and over all was thrown the rich red glow of the fire, producing the highest effects of light and shade. The never-failing prevision of my negro servant William supplied our evening repast with some excellent Irish potatoes, which he had contrived to pick up somewhere on the road, and which he roasted in such a manner as to produce a very pleasing result.

One of our couriers, whom we had sent off to the postoffice at Culpepper Court-house, came in after supper, bringing [265] me the first letters I had received from home since my departure for America. Stretched out upon the damp ground, I became so much absorbed in reading them by the fitful glare of the fire, that my blanket caught from the embers without my perceiving it, and was in rapid combustion when Stuart called out to me, “Von, what are you doing there? Are you going to burn yourself like an Indian widow?”

8th, 9th, and 10th November.

Early the following morning we left our beds of mud and snow, and moved to the Hazel river, where we awaited the further approach of the enemy in line of battle, on the high hills which line the Culpepper shore near Rixeville. But everything remaining perfectly quiet, Stuart and myself crossed the river to look after the enemy, whom we found to be encamped near Jefferson, manifesting no intention of a further advance. Having satisfied ourselves upon this, we at once returned to our command, the greater part of which was ordered back to the camp of the past night, only a few squadrons and some pieces of artillery being left behind to resist a sudden attack on the fords. Our pickets were thrown forward at the same time two miles on the opposite side of the river.

Our headquarters waggons having arrived meanwhile, and it appearing most likely that our stay in this part of the country would be of considerable duration, we pitched our tents on the edge of an oak wood, and our encampment was soon laid out in regular order. General Lee with the greater part of his army, had now arrived, and had gone into camp in [266] the vicinity of Culpepper Court-house, General Longstreet, with his whole corps, having reached there several days before, followed by Jackson, who had left behind only one of his divisions under D. H. Hill, near Front Royal.

General Stuart went off next day on a little reconnaissance to Brandy Station and Rappahannock Bridge, but for once I did not accompany him, being detained in camp by domestic duties, arranging the interior of my tent, and building the customary fireplace and mud chimney. For the transportation of materials we employed our well-known yellow van captured from the Yankees, to which Pelham and I each harnessed one of our horse. The first time we attached the team, I had occasion to witness with indignation and punish with severity the brutal conduct of Pelham's negro Willis, who, at the moment my horse was making the greatest efforts to pull our heavily-laden waggon out of a mud-hole, struck him in a paroxysm of anger over the head with a hatchet, felling the poor animal to the ground, where it lay for several minutes apparently lifeless. I was fortunately close enough to reward the scoundrel's barbarity at once with his own horsewhip.

General Stuart returned in the evening, in time for our slender dinner of coffee and baked potatoes, telling us that on his way back he had called at the headquarters of General Lee, and received orders for going off the next day on a reconnaissance in force. He was to take with him Fitz Lee's brigade, one battery, and two regiments of infantry, the latter having been detached to him for this special purpose. We were roused at daybreak next morning by the roll of the drums of our reinforcements, and at eight o'clock we crossed Hazel river, sending one regiment of cavalry to the right towards Jefferson, and proceeding with the main column to [267] the left towards the village of Emmetsville. About ten o'clock our advanced-guard came up with the enemy, with whom we were soon hotly engaged, the Yankees falling back slowly before us. I could not help admiring on this occasion the excellent behaviour of a squadron of the 5th New York Cavalry, who received with the greatest coolness the heavy fire of our battery, maintaining perfect order while shell after shell exploded in their ranks, and saddle after saddle was emptied-quietly filling the gaps in their lines, and finally only giving way when we charged them with several squadrons.

During the earlier part of the fight the Federals had been wholly without artillery, but several batteries now came to their assistance, opening a vigorous and well-directed fire upon our guns, which lost heavily in men and horses. I had halted near two of our pieces, and was talking with Lieutenant McGregor, the officer in command of them, when a shell, bursting within thirty feet of us, sent its deadly missiles in every direction, several fragments of the iron passing directly between us, and one of them shattering the leg of the brave young fellow so that it dangled loosely from his side. He insisted, however, on remaining with his guns, and it required the joint persuasions of General Stuart and myself to induce him to withdraw from the field and place himself in the hands of the surgeon.

Our infantry now joining in the fight, we drove the Yankees back to the neighbourhood of Emmetsville, when I was ordered by my chief to reconnoitre the position there before he could attempt pushing his success further. Climbing a high hill about a mile on our right, I soon obtained a magnificent view of the surrounding country, extending for many miles towards the town of Warrenton, where numerous encampments indicated the presence of the entire Federal army. In the immediate front, towards Emmetsville, I could [268] see the force opposing us about being reinforced by three brigades of infantry and several batteries of artillery, which were advancing at a double-quick along the turnpike road. In full haste I galloped back to inform General Stuart of the danger of his position, but before reaching him I saw our troops falling back, my chief having himself quickly perceived the additional strength of his opponents.

The enemy's tirailleurs were now moving rapidly forward in admirable order, and by their spirited and accurate fire greatly harassed the retreat of our troops, which was covered by two pieces of our artillery and our cavalry sharpshooters. Stuart, seeing his cavalrymen rapidly driven back, and greatly provoked at the successful advance of the foe, called to him twenty-five or thirty of our infantry riflemen, and posted them at the corner of a wood, with orders not to fire until the enemy had arrived within two hundred yards of them, that they might punish effectively the impudence of the Yankees, as he called it. Stuart here, as usual, greatly exposed his own person on horseback, by riding out of the wood into the open field, and I felt it my duty to say to him that in my opinion he was not in his proper place, as in a few minutes the whole fire of the enemy would be concentrated upon him; but as J. E. B. was in a very bad humour, he answered me curtly, that if this place seemed likely to become too hot for myself, I was at liberty to leave it; where-upon I made response, that, my duty attaching me to his side, no place could be too hot for me where he chose to go. Nevertheless I changed my position, cautiously bringing a large tree, in front of which I had been standing, between myself and the enemy. In an instant the firing commenced, and three bullets struck the tree at just the height to show that, had I remained where I was, they would certainly have gone through my body. Looking at Stuart, I saw him pass his hand quickly across his face, and even at this serious moment I could not help laughing heartily when [269] I discovered that one of the numberless bullets that had been whistling round me had cut off half of his beloved mustache as neatly as it could have been done by the hand of an experienced barber.

The Yankees having kept up the pursuit for only a short distance, we continued our retreat quietly towards Hazel river. Altogether our reconnaissance had been highly successful. We had found out all we desired to know without much loss, while we had inflicted serious damage upon the enemy, and brought back with us thirty prisoners. Being ordered by General Stuart to report immediately to General Lee what had been done, I galloped rapidly ahead, about dusk, passing en route our headquarters, where those who had been left behind came running towards me to get news of the fighting, which I gave them in a condensed form, “All right!” and hurried onward without stopping. With some trouble I found General Lee's encampment on the opposite side of the town, where his modest tents had been pitched in a dense pine thicket. Supper was announced just as I arrived, and, having accepted the General's kindly invitation to join him at the table, I there recited to an eager audience our recent adventures. The Commander-in-Chief and the members of his Staff were all greatly amused at the loss of half of Stuart's mustache, a personal ornament upon which they knew our cavalry leader much prided himself. It was late at night when I got back again to our headquarters, where Stuart and my comrades of his Staff had arrived long before me.

1 The persimmon tree grows very abundantly in Virginia, and its fruit resembles somewhat the European medlar or the Asiatic date. In the green state the persimmon is exceedingly acrid and astringent, but it becomes mellowed by successive frosts, and in winter its taste is sweet and palatable. Very good beer is made from it, and the kernels were frequently employed by us in the preparation of a wretched substitute for coffee. The North Carolina troops were often “chaffed” by their comrades from other States for being so fond of persimmons — a taste they had in common with the negroes and that remark-able animal the Virginia opossum, which is always fattest when the persimmon season is at its height.

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