previous next

To Gettysburg and back again.

“Ho! For the Valley!”

This was the somewhat dramatic exclamation of Major-General J. E. B. Stuart, about the 24th of June, 1863, as he got into the saddle at the little village of Rector's Cross-Roads, between Middleburg and Upperville, and turned his horse's head westward toward the Blue Ridge mountains.

If the worthy reader will return in memory to that epoch, and recall the route which the gay cavalier speedily directed his column over, the words above quoted will appear somewhat mysterious. “The situation” at the moment may be described in a very few words; for the full record, see the “historian of the future.” After the crushing defeat of Chancellorsville, General Hooker cut behind him the pontoons covered with pine boughs, to deaden the noise of his artillery wheels in crossing, and took up a strong position on the northern bank of the Rappahannock to repulse the expected onslaught of his great adversary, Lee. No such attack, however, was intended. Lee preferred to manceuvre his opponent out of Virginia — it was the more bloodless proceeding-and very soon the soldiers of the army understood that “Lee was moving.”

A grand review of the cavalry was ordered, near Culpeper Court-House, and General Fitz Lee politely sent an invitation to General Hood to attend it, and “bring any of his friends.” A day or two afterwards, Hood appeared with his great division, [227] announcing that these were all “his friends,” and he thought he would bring them along. The review duly took place east of the Court-House. The squadrons of cavalry charged-General Stuart and his staff in front; cannon thundered in mimic conflict; the sun shone; bright eyes flashed; and beneath the Confederate banner, rippling on its lofty pole, the Commander-in-Chief sat his iron-gray, looking on. Festivities at the Court-House followed; the youngsters of the army had a gay dance with the young ladies from the country round; and almost in the midst of the revelry, as at Brussels on the night of Waterloo, the thunder of artillery was heard from the direction of Fleetwood Hill, near Brandy. In fact, Stuart had been assailed there by the elite of the Federal infantry and cavalry, under some of their ablest commanders — the object of the enemy being to ascertain, by reconnoissance in force, what all the hubbub of the review signified-and throughout the long June day, they threw themselves, with desperate gallantry, against the Southern horse-no infantry on our side taking part in the action. Colonel Williams was killed; Captain Farley, of Stuart's staff, was killed; Captain White, of the staff, too, was wounded; Colonel Butler was wounded; General W. H. F. Lee was shot down at the head of his charging column; and Stuart himself was more than once completely surrounded. For three hours the battle was “touch and go;” but thanks to the daring charges of Young and Lee, the enemy were driven; they slowly and sullenly retired, leaving the ground strewed with their dead, and at nightfall were again beyond the Rappahannock.

The trumpet of battle had thus been sounded; action followed. Lee put his columns in motion for Pennsylvania; Stuart advanced with his cavalry to hold the country east of the Blue Ridge, and guard the passes as the long column moved through; and then commenced a war of the giants between the opposing horse of the Federal and Confederate armies. It was a matter of grave importance that Hooker should undo the designs of Lee; and mighty efforts were made to burst through the cavalry cordon, and strike the flank of the moving army. Stuart was, however, in the way. On all the roads was his omnipresent cavairy, [228] under the daring Hampton, Fitz Lee, the gay and gallant cavalier, and others as resolute. Everywhere the advance of the enemy's cavalry was met and driven back, until about the twentieth of June. Then a conclusive trial of strength took place. A grand reconnoitring force, composed of a division of infantry under General Birney, I believe, and several divisions of cavalry, with full supports of artillery, was pushed forward from Aldie; Stuart was assailed simultaneously along about fifteen miles of front; and in spite of his most strenuous efforts, he was forced slowly to fall back toward the Ridge. This was one of the most stubborn conflicts of the war; and on every hill, from the summit of every knoll, Stuart fought with artillery, cavalry, and dismounted sharpshooters, doggedly struggling to hold his ground. The attempt was vain. Behind the heavy lines of Federal skirmishers advanced their dense columns of cavalry; behind the cavalry were seen the bristling bayonets of their infantry; from the right, the left, and the front, thundered their excellently served artillery. Stuart was pushed from hill to hill, the enemy came on mile after mile, and at Upperville a great disaster seemed imminent. The Federal forces closed in on front and flanks, made a desperate attack with the sabre, and the result seemed about to be decided. Stuart was in the very hottest of the press, sword in hand, determined evidently to repulse the enemy or die, and his black feather was the mark of a hundred pistol-balls-his rich uniform clearly indicating his rank to the Federal troopers almost in contact with him. This was the depressing situation of affairs — the centre driven, and the column on the Bloomfield road falling rapidly back on the left, thus exposing the main body to imminent danger of being cut off, when the Deus ex machind appeared in the person of Wade Hampton. That good cavalier saw the crisis, formed his column under the heavy fire, and taking command in person, went at them with the sabre, scarcely firing a shot. The result was that the Federal line was swept back, the elite of the charging force put hors du combat by the edge of the sabre, and the Southern column fell back toward Paris, in the mouth of Ashby's Gap, without further difficulty. [229]

The enemy had accomplished their object, and they had not accomplished it. Stuart was forced to retire, but they had not succeeded in penetrating to the Ridge. No doubt the presence of infantry there was discovered or suspected, but otherwise the great reconnoissance was unproductive of substantial results.

On the same night they retired. Stuart followed them at dawn with his whole force; and by mid-day he was in possession of Middleburg, several miles in advance of his position on the day before.

Such was the quick work of these two days.


It was about three days after these events that Stuart sprang with a gay laugh to saddle, turned his horse's head westward, and uttered that exclamation:

Ho! for the Valley!

Now, if the reader will permit, I beg to descend from the lofty heights of historic summary to the level champaign of my personal observations and adventures. From the heights alluded to, you see a long distance, and distinguish the “important events” in grand outline; but in the level you are greeted by more of the colouring of what occurs. In this paper I design recording some scenes and incidents as they passed before my own eyes, rather than to sum up facts in “official” form. A memoir rather than a history is intended; and as a human being can only remember what he has seen and felt, the present writer --even at the risk of being charged with egotism — is going to confine himself, as closely as possible, to his own adventures and impressions de voyage.

“Ho for the Valley!” was a truly delightful exclamation to me. Bright eyes of various colours shone there by the Shenandoah and Opequon; there were some voices whose music I had not heard for a long time. The prospect now of seeing the eyes, and hearing the voices, banished every other thought, even the remembrance of that heavy misfortune of having had my military satchel, with all I possessed in the way of a wardrobe, cap- [230]

wearing of the gray tured by the enemy a few days before when they drove us from the Cross-Roads. There could certainly be no doubt about the General's meaning. He had turned his horse toward the Ridge. “Ho! For the Valley!” indicated his intended line of march; he, like myself, was going to see his good friends all in that land of lands along the Shenandoah.

Alas! and whenever the pithy word is employed by a writer, the reader knows what he has to expect. General Stuart had scarcely got out of sight of the village, carolling a gay song as he rode, when the disconsolate staff-officer beside him observed a movement of the General's left rein; his horse cleared a fence; and ten minutes afterwards he was riding rapidly eastward, in a direction precisely opposite to the Blue Ridge. The General had practised a little ruse to blind the eyes of the Cross-Roads villagers — was doubling on the track; he was going after General Hooker, then in the vicinity of Manassas, and thencewhither?

We bivouacked by the roadside under some pines that night, advanced before dawn, drove a detachment of the enemy from Glasscock's Gap, in the Bull Run mountain, and pushed on to cut off any force which lingered in the gorge of Thoroughfare Gap. When cavalry undertake to cut off infantry, the process is exciting, but not uniformly remunerative. It was the rear of Hancock's corps which we struck not far from Haymarket; there, passing rapidly toward Manassas, about eight hundred yards off, were the long lines of wagons and artillery; and behind these came on the dense blue masses of infantry, the sunshine lighting up their burnished bayonets.

Stuart hastened forward his artillery; it opened instantly upon the infantry, and the first shot crashed into a caisson, making the horses rear and run; the infantry line bending backward as though the projectile had struck it. This “good shot” highly delighted the General, who turned round laughing, and called attention to the accuracy of the fire. The individual addressed laughed in response, but replied, “Look out, though; they are going to enfilade you from that hill on the right, General.” “Oh! I reckon not,” responded the General; but he had scarcely [231] spoken when a puff of white smoke rose from the wooded knoll in question, and a shot screamed by, just grazing the top of one of our caissons near the guns. This was followed by another and another; the enemy were seen hastily forming line, and advancing sharpshooters; whereupon Stuart ordered back his guns, and dismounted cavalry to meet them.

A running fight; enemy merely holding their flank intact; soon the line had passed on and disappeared; the cavalry saw vanish safely all those tantalizing wagons filled with good, rich forage, and who knew what beside. Stuart meanwhile had sent off Mosby, with a party of picked men, to reconnoitre, and was sleeping with his head upon an officer's breast — to the very extreme discomfort of that personage, whose profound respect for his sleepy military superior prevented him from changing his position.

With night came rain, and the General and his staff were invited to the handsome mansion of Dr., near Bucklands, where all slept under cover but Stuart. Everywhere he insisted on faring like his men; and I well remember the direction given to his body-servant a few days before, to spread his blankets under a tree on a black and stormy night with the rain descending in torrents — the house in which he had established his headquarters being only twenty paces from the tree. On this night at Bucklands he repeated the ceremony, but a gay supper preceded it.

That supper is one of the pleasant memories the present writer has of the late war. How the good companions laughed and devoured the viands of the hospitable host! How the beautiful girls of the family stood with mock submission, servant-wise, behind the chairs, and waited on the guests with their sweetest smiles, until that reversal of all the laws of the universe became a perfect comedy, and ended in an eclat of laughter! General and staff waited in turn on the waiters; and when the tired troopers fell asleep on the floor of the portico, it is certain that a number of bright eyes shone in their dreams. Such is the occasional comedy which lights up the tragedy of war.

The bugle sounded; we got into the saddle again; the columns [232] moved; and that evening we had passed around Manassas, where Hooker's rear force still lingered, and were approaching Fairfax Station through the great deserted camps near Wolf Run Shoals. The advance pushed on through the wild and desolate locality, swarming with abandoned cabins and army debris; and soon we had reached the station, which is not far from the Court-House.

Here took place a little incident, known afterwards among the present writer's friends as the “Cherry-pie breakfast.” A brief notice of this historic occurrence may entertain the reader. Three members of the staff and a young courier left the column to seek a blacksmith, whose services were needed; and the house of this worthy was found about half a mile east of the station. He was a friend of the gray, prompt and courteous, and soon was busy at the hoofs of the horses; his good wife meanwhile getting breakfast for the party. It was speedily served, and consisted of every delicacy-bread of all descriptions, fresh butter, yellow cream, sweetmeats, real coffee, then an extreme luxury, and some cherry pies, which caused the wandering staff officers to break forth into exclamations of rapture. A heavy attack was made upon all, and our “bluebird” friends themselves, fond as they are said to be of the edible, could not have surpassed the devotion exhibited toward the cherry pies. At the end of the repast one of the party, in the enthusiasm of the moment, piled up several pieces of the pie, drew out his purse, and determined to carry off the whole for future consumption; whereat a friendly contest occurred between himself and the excellent dame, who could not be induced to receive pay from any member of the party for her entertainment. “She had never charged a Confederate soldier a cent, and never meant to.”

All this was peaceful and pleasing; but all at once there was a stir in the yard, and without securing the pie, we went out. Lo! a gentleman in a blue coat and mounted was seen rapidly approaching below the house, followed by others.

“Look out!” said Major V— ; “there are the Yankees!”

“They are running by — they won't stop. What are you going to do?” I said. [233]

“I am going to put the bridle on my horse!”

And the Major bridled up and mounted rapidly.

“Well, I am going to wait to have the shoes put on mine.”

Idle and absurd intent! Even as I spoke, the party scattered, Major V- galloping to the right, Major Mc— to the left, with the courier. A single glance revealed the “situation.” Another party of blue-coats were rushing at full gallop toward the house from above. Shot suddenly resounded. “Hi! Hi! Halt!” followed; and I had just time to mount and pass at full speed across the front of the party, pursued by more shots and “hihi's!” Admire, reader, the spectacle of the stampeded staff officers! My friend in front resembled the worthy Gilpin, with a pistol holster for the jug-his horse's tail “floating free,” and every nail in the hind shoes of the animal visible as he darted headlong toward the protecting woods! We plunged through a swamp, jumped fences and fallen trees, and reaching the forestcover, penetrated a thicket, and stopped to listen. The shouts died away; no sound of hoofs came, and doubling back, we came again to the station to find the meaning of everything. Stuart had been quietly waiting there for his column, with the bridle out of his horse's mouth, in order that the animal might champ some “Yankee oats,” when all at once a scouting-party had come at full gallop from the direction of the Court-House. Before he was aware of their approach, they were nearly upon him; he had just had time to escape by seizing the halter and digging the spurs into his horse.

Then the scouting party, finding the size of the hornets' nest into which they had leaped, turned their horses' heads eastward, bore down on the blacksmith's whither we had gone, interrupted the “cherry-pie breakfast,” and vanished toward Sanxter's, chasing Major V— until he came up with Munford. When our probable capture was announced to General Stuart, and a squadron requested for our recovery, I am sorry to say that the General responded with a laugh, “Oh! They are too intelligent to be caught!” and when the incident of the abandonment of the cherry-pie was related to Stuart, he enjoyed it in a remarkable degree! [234]

Do you remember still, my dear companions, that good cherry-pie breakfast, the chase which followed, and the laughter of Stuart? That was a jovial trip we made across the border in the good year 1863; and the days and nights were full of incident and adventure. Do you find the present year, 1866, as “gay and happy” as its predecessor? I do not.


Our mishap above related was truly unfortunate. It gave the advance-guard the start, and when we reached Fairfax Court-House, they had rifled the public store-houses and sutlers' shops of their entire contents.

It was impossible to forbear from laughing at the spectacle which the column presented. Every man had on a white straw hat, and a pair of snowy cotton gloves. Every trooper carried before him upon the pommel of his saddle a bale of smoking tobacco, or a drum of figs; every hand grasped a pile of ginger-cakes, which were rapidly disappearing. But hospitality to the rear-guard was the order of the day. We did not suffer. The mishaps of my comrades and myself had in some manner become known, and we were greeted with shouts of laughter, but with soldierly generosity too. Every hand proffered a straw hat of the most elegant pattern, or a pair of gloves as white as the driven snow. Every comrade held out his figs, pressed on his cakes, or begged us to try his smoking tobaccowhich I am compelled to say was truly detestable.

Such was the gay scene at Fairfax Court-House when Stuart entered the place.

The cavalry did not stop long. Soon the column was again moving steadily towards the Potomac, intelligence having arrived that General Hooker's main body had passed that river at Leesburg. What would Stuart do-what route would he now follow? There were few persons, if any, in the entire command, who could reply to that question. Cross at Leesburg? To merely follow up Hooker while Hooker followed up Lee, was very unlike Stuart. Strike across for the Blue Ridge, and cross at [235] Shepherdstown? That would lose an immense amount of invaluable time and horse-flesh. Cross below Leesburg? That seemed impossible with the artillery, and difficult even for cavalry. The river was broad, deep, with a rocky and uneven bed; and so confident were the enemy of the impossibility of our crossing there, that not a picket watched the stream.

Stuart's design was soon developed. We reached at nightfall an elevation not far from the Great Falls — the spot laid down on the maps at Matildaville, or near it-Stuart riding with staff and advance guard far in front. The latter pushed on — the rest stopping-when all at once shots came from the front, and Stuart called out cheerily to the staff: “Look out! Here they come! Give it to them with pistols!” The bang of carbines followed: a squadron hastened to the front, and opened fire; and in the midst of it Stuart said, “Tell Hampton-you can follow his trail --that Chambliss is up, and Fitz Lee coming.” The “trail” was plain in the moonlight; I followed it; and reaching the Potomac just above the Falls, found Hampton crossing.

The spectacle was picturesque. The broad river glittered in the moon, and on the bright surface was seen the long, wavering line of dark figures, moving “in single file;” the water washing to and fro across the backs of the horses, which kept their feet with difficulty. The hardest portion of the task was crossing the cannon of the horse-artillery. It seemed impossible to get the limbers and caissons over without wetting, and so destroying the ammunition; but the ready brain of Stuart found an expedient. The boxes were quickly unpacked; every cavalry-man took charge of a shell, case, or solid shot with the fixed cartridge; and thus held well aloft, the precious freight was carried over dry. Once on the other side, the shell-bearers deposited the ammunition on the beach; it was repacked in the caissons, which had been dragged by the plunging horses over the rocky bed in safety; the guns followed; the artillery was over!

At Hanovertown, in Pennsylvania, two or three days afterwards, the cavalry did not by any means regret the trouble they had been put to in carrying over that ammunition “dry shod.” Breathed thundered with it from the heights, and with shell [236] after shell broke the heavy line advancing to the assault. Never was thunder sweeter and more musical! But I anticipate.

The river was crossed; also the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, by a narrow bridge; and the cavalry halted for brief rest-the General and staff receiving open-handed hospitality from Mr. and his family; those guardian angels of the soldier, the ladies, staying up all night to wait upon the weary gray-backs, and give them food.

The column moved at dawn toward the “undiscovered land” of Star-and-Stripe-dom, in a northern direction, toward Rockville. It was not long before we came on the blue people. “Bang! Bang! Bang!” indicated that the advance guard was charging a picket; the shots ended; we pushed on, passing some dead or wounded forms, bleeding by the grassy roadside; and the town of Rockville came in sight. The present writer pushed on after the advance guard, which had galloped through, and riding solus along a handsome street, came suddenly upon a spectacle which was truly pleasing. This was a seminary for young ladies, with open windows, open doors-and doors and windows were full and running over with the fairest specimens of the gentler sex that eye ever beheld. It was Sunday, and the beautiful girls in their fresh gaily coloured dresses, low necks, bare arms, and wildernesses of braids and curls, were “off duty” for the moment, and burning with enthusiasm to welcome the Southerner; for Rockville, in radical parlance, was a “vile secesh hole.” Every eye flashed, every voice exclaimed; every rosy lip laughed; every fair hand waved a handkerchief or a sheet of music (smuggled) with crossed Confederate flags upon the cover. The whole fagade of the building was a tulip-bed of brilliant colours, more brilliant eyes, and joy and welcome!

Pardon, friend, if you are of the “other faction,” this little burst of enthusiasm, as I remember Rockville on that gay June morning. Pleasant it is in the dull hours of to-day to recall that scene; and the bright eyes flash once more, the laughter again sounds!

As the present historian drew near, riding as aforesaid, ahead of his commander, a beautiful girl of about sixteen rushed forth [237] from the portico, pirouetting and clapping her hands in an ecstasy at the sight of the gray uniform, exclaiming, “Oh! Here is one of General Stuart's aides!” and finished by pulling some hair from the mane of my calm and philosophic old war-horse, on the expressly stated ground that he was “a Secession horse!” Then General Stuart approached with his column-gay, laughing, his blue eyes under the black feather full of the joy of the soldier; and a wild welcome greeted him. The scene was one which beggars description, and it remains in my memory to-day as clearly as though cut deep in “monumental alabaster.” Sweet faces, with the beautiful welcoming eyes, and smiling lips! an ex-rebel-he who writes this page-takes off his hat and bows low to you, saluting you as the pearls of loveliness and goodness!


Stuart did not tarry. In war there is little time for gallant words, and news had just reached us from the front which moved the column on like the sound of the bugle.

This news was, that while we approached Rockville from the south, a mighty train of nearly two hundred wagons-new, fresh-painted, drawn each by six sleek mules, as became the “Reserve forage train” of the Department at Washingtonhad in like manner approached from the east, intent on collecting forage. The rumour of the dread vicinity of the graybacks had come to them, however, blown on the wind; the column of wagons had instantly “counter-marched” in the opposite direction; they were now thundering at full gallop back toward Washington, pursued by the advance guard.

Stuart's face flushed at the thought of capturing this splendid prize; and shouting to a squadron to follow him, and the main column to push on, he went at a swift gallop on the track of the fleeing wagons.

Soon we came up with them, and then commenced an indescribably grotesque scene. The immense train was seen covering the road for miles. Every team in full gallop, every wagon [238] whirling onward, rebounding from rocks, and darting into the air,--one crashing against another “with the noise of thunder” here one overturned, and lying with wheels upward, the mules struggling and kicking in the harness; then one toppling over a steep bank, and falling with a loud crash: others burning, others still dashing for shelter to the woods,--the drivers cursing, yelling, lashing, blaspheming, howling amid the bang of carbines, the clatter of hoofs, and cries of “Halt! Halt! Halt!”

Stuart burst into laughter, and turning round, exclaimed: “Did you ever see anything like that in all your life!” And I certainly never had. The grotesque ruled; the mules seemed wilder than the drivers. They had been cut by the score from the overturned wagons, and now ran in every direction, kicking up at every step, sending their shrill cries upon the air, and presenting a spectacle so ludicrous that a huge burst of “Olympian laughter” echoed from end to end of the turnpike.

Soon they were all stopped, captured, and driven to the rear by the aforesaid cursing drivers, now sullen, or laughing like the captors. All but those overturned. These were set on fire, and soon there rose for miles along the road the red glare of flames, and the dense smoke of the burning vehicles. They had been pursued within sight of Washington, and I saw, I believe, the dome of the capitol. That spectacle was exciting-and General Stuart thought of pushing on to make a demonstration against the defences. This, however, was given up; and between the flames of the burning wagons we pushed back to Rockville, through which the long line of captured vehicles, with their sleek, rosetted mules, six to each, had already defiled, amid the shouts of the inhabitants. Those thus “saved” were about one hundred in number.

The column moved, and about ten that night reached Brookville, where the atmosphere seemed Southern, like that of Rockville, for a bevy of beautiful girls thronged forth with baskets of cakes, and bread and meat, and huge pitchers of ice-waterpenetrating fearlessly the press of trampling hoofs and ministering to the necessities of the rebels with undisguised satisfaction. If the fair girl living in the handsome mansion below Mr. Hamilton's, [239] remembers still to whom she insisted upon presenting nine cups of coffee with every delicacy, the rebel in question begs to assure her of his continued gratitude for her kindness. At Brookville some hundreds of prisoners — the greater part captured by General Wickham in a boat at the Potomac-were paroled and started for Washington, as an act of humanity.

At one o'clock in the morning Stuart mounted and moved on, speedily falling asleep in the saddle, and tottering from side to side. In this he was not alone; and I remember the laughable spectacle of Major M— , sitting grave, erect, and motionless upon his horse in front of a country store by the roadside, to which the animal had made his way and halted. The Major seemed to be waiting — for somebody, or something-meanwhile he was snoring. Moving steadily on, the column approached Westminster, and here Fitz Lee, who was in advance, found the enemy drawn up in the street awaiting him. A charge quickly followed, carbines banged, and the enemy gave waybut we left behind, lying dead by the roadside, Lieutenants Murray and Gibson, two of our best officers, shot dead in the skirmish. The enemy were pursued at full gallop through the town, to their camp on the heights to the west; the camp was taken with all its contents-and the bugles of Fitz Lee, sounding on the wind from the breezy upland, told that he had driven the Federal cavalry before him. Westminster was ours.

Stuart took possession, but was not greeted with much cordiality. Friends, and warm ones, met us, but they had a “hacked” demeanour, and many of them spoke under their breath. Westminster was evidently “Union,” but some families warmly welcomed us-others scowled. The net results of the capture of the place were-one old dismounted gun of the “Quaker” order on a hill near the cavalry camp aforesaid, and a United States flag taken from the vault of the Court-House, with the names of the ladies who had made it worked across each star. What became of this I do not know. We left the town that night, bivouacked in the rain by the roadside, pushed on at dawn, and were soon in Pennsylvania, where details were immediately sent out to seize horses. These, as I saw them pass in great numbers, [240] were large, fat, sleek, and apparently excellent. I was not long, however, in discovering that they were worthless as ridinghorses; one of the thin, wiry, rawboned Virginia horses, half the weight of these Conestogas, would wear out a dozen. One had “blood,” the other had not-and blood will tell.

We were enemies here, but woman, the angelic, still succoured us; woman, without shoes or stockings often, and speaking Dutch, but no less hospitable. One of them presented me with coffee, bread spread with “apple-butter” --and smiles. I don't think the Mynheers found the gray people very fierce and bloody. The horses were appropriated; but beyond that nothing — the very necks of the chickens went unwrung.

The column was in high glee thus far, and the men were rapidly receiving “remounts.” No enemy approached-your old soldier never very bitterly laments that circumstance; but all at once as we approached Hanovertown, we stirred up the hornets. Chambliss — that brave soul who afterwards fell heroically fighting in Charles City-at the head of the Ninth Virginia drove in their pickets; and he had just swept on down the heights toward the town, whose steeples shone before us nestling beneath the mountain, when Stuart in person rode up rapidly.

“Well, General,” I said, “Chambliss has driven them, and is going right on.”

“Good!” was Stuart's reply. “Tell him to push on and occupy the town, but not to pursue them too far.”

These words were impressed upon my memory by the sequel, which laughably but very disagreeably reversed the General's expectations. Hastening down the declivity with the order for Chambliss, I found him advancing rapidly in column of fours to charge the enemy, who were drawn up in the outskirts of the town. Before he could issue the order it was rendered somewhat nugatory by the blue people in front. We had supposed their force to be small, but it was now seen to be heavy. They swarmed everywhere, right, left, and front; rapidly formed line of battle, and delivering a sharp volley at short range in the faces of the Confederates, made a gallant and headlong charge.

The result made it unnecessary to warn the men not to “pursue [241] too far.” They met the charge sabre to sabre; a hot conflict ensued, but the enemy pressing on with unbroken front in heavy force, the Ninth fell back in good order to the higher ground in their rear, keeping off the assailants at the edge of the sabre. The road over which they made this “retrograde” was narrow, and the melee of trampling hoofs, shouts, and sabre-cuts, was more exciting than amusing. Men fell all around before the fire of the excellent Spencer rifles of the enemy; and while gallantly rallying the men, Captain John Lee was shot through the arm. To add to the disagreeable character of the situation, I now observed General Stuart in person, and unattended, coming across the field to the right at full gallop, pursued by a detachment of cavalry who fired on him as they came, and as I reached his side his face was stormy, his voice irate.

“Have the artillery put in position yonder on the road; tell it to open!” was his brief order.

And in a few minutes it was hurried forward, and opened fire. Returning to the field in which I had left the General, I found him the second time “falling back” before a hotter pursuit than the first. The Federal cavalry-men, about a company, were nigh upon him as he galloped across the field; shots whistled; orders to halt resounded; but it may be understood that it was inconvenient to comply. We went on headlong, leaped a tremendous ravine with the enemy almost in contact, and following a friendly lane where the rails were down, reached the slope where the artillery had just opened its thunders.

This checked the enemy's further advance, and Hampton having opened on the right, things settled down somewhat. We had evidently waked up a real hornets' nest, however. Long columns of blue cavalry were seen defiling down the mountain, and advancing to the front, and a heavy force was observed closing in on the left. All at once the edge of the town swarmed with blue figures; a heavy line was seen advancing, and soon this line pushed on with cheers, to charge the artillery on the heights.

Breathed replied by opening upon them with shell and canister. [242] The first shell burst in the line; the second near the first; and the third made it waver. A more rapid fire succeeded; everything depended upon these few moments, and then the line was seen slowly retiring. At the same instant intelligence came that the force on the left was Fitz Lee, who had come in on that flank; and the continuous thunder of Hampton on the right showed plainly that in that direction all was well. This advance of the Federal sharpshooters was one of the finest sights I ever beheld; and at one moment I thought Breathed's guns would never leave that field of tall rye where they were vomiting fire and smoke — under the command of this gallant Major at least. Whether this historian also would succeed in retiring without capture seemed equally doubtful, as he had mounted a huge Conestoga-fat, sleek, elephantine, and unwieldy — a philosophic animal who stood unmoved by the cannon, never blinking at the discharges, and appeared superior to all the excitements of the moment. Breathed's fire, however, repulsed the charge; and as night drew on, Stuart set his column in motion — the wagons in the centre — toward Jefferson. One ludicrous scene at that moment I perfectly remember. A fat Dutchman who had been lounging about, and reconnoitring the strength, etc., of the Confederate force, was regarded as too well informed to be left behind with the enemy; and this worthy was accordingly requested to “come along” on the back of a huge Conestoga. This request he treated with calm disregard, when a cavalry-man made a tremendous blow at him, which caused him to mount in hot haste, with only a halter to guide his elephant. He had no sooner done so than the Conestoga ran off, descended the slope at full speed, bounded elephant-wise over an enormous ditchand it was only by clinging close with knees and hands that the Dutchman kept his seat. Altogether, the spectacle was one to tickle the ribs of death. The last I saw of the captive, he was in the very centre of the column, which was moving at a trot, and he was swept on with it; passing away for ever from the eyes of this historian, who knows not what became of him thereafter.

The sun began to decline now, and we rode, rode, rode-the [243] long train of wagons strung out to infinity, it seemed. At dark the little village of Jefferson was reached — of which metropolis I recall but one souvenir. This was a pretty Dutch girl, who seemed not at all hostile to the gray people, and who willingly prepared me an excellent supper of hot bread, milk, coffee, and eggs fried temptingly with bacon. She could not speak English --she could only look amiable, smile, and murmur unintelligible words in an unknown language. I am sorry to say, that I do not recall the supper with a satisfaction as unalloyed. I was sent by the General to pass somebody through his pickets, and on my return discovered that I was the victim of a cruel misfortune. The young hostess had placed my supper on a table in a small apartment, in which a side door opened on the street; through this some felonious personage had entered-hot bread, milk, coffee, eggs, and ham, had vanished down some hungry cavalryman's throat.

Mounting despondingly, I followed the column, which had again begun to move, and soon reached the village of New Salem.


It was nearly midnight when we arrived at this small village; and, to continue my own personal recollections, the village tavern appeared to present a favourable opportunity to redeem my misfortune at Jefferson.

It was proposed, accordingly, to the General that he should stop there and procure some coffee, of which he was very fond --and as he acceded to this cheerfully, I applied to the burly landlord, who responded encouragingly. In a quarter of an hour the coffee was ready; also some excellent ale; also some bread and the inseparable “apple butter,” or “spreading,” as the Pennsylvanians call this edible. When General Stuart had emptied his coffee-cup — which always put the stout cavalier in a gay humour --he laughed, mounted his horse, and said to me:

By the by, suppose you stay here until Hi-ampton comes along; I am going on with Fitz Lee. Tell Hampton to move on steadily on the road to Dover, and show him the way.


With these words, the General rode away on the track of General Fitz Lee, and the present writer was left solus, to “hold the position alone” at Salem. This position, it speedily appeared, was not wholly desirable. The advance division under Lee had pushed on several miles ahead — there was not a single cavalryman beside myself in Salem-and Hampton was several miles behind. To add to the charms of the “situation,” there were a number of extremely cut-throat looking individuals of the “other faction” lounging about the porch, eyeing the lonely Confederate askance, and calculating apparently the chance of “suppressing” him without danger-and the individual in this disagreeable situation was nearly dead for want of sleep.

There appeared, however, to be very little real hostility-such as I imagine would have been exhibited by the inhabitants of a Southern village had an officer of the U. S. army been left behind under similar circumstances. Doubtless the hangers-on were impressed with the conviction that in case the wandering staff-officer did not rejoin his command, General Stuart would return to look for him, torch in hand, when the village of New Salem would make its exit in a bonfire. The portly landlord, especially, appeared to be a real philosopher; and when asked the meaning of a distant noise, replied with a laugh, “Some of your people tearing up the railroad, I guess!”

In spite of the worthy's strong coffee and the unpleasing expression of eye in the crowd around, I was just dropping asleep in my chair on the porch, when the clatter of hoofs resounded, and the voice of General Hampton was heard in the darkness, asking if there .was any one there to direct him. This sound aroused me, and in a few moments I was riding with the brave cavalier at the head of his column toward Dover. Toward dawn General Hampton halted, and I asked if he was going to stop.

“Yes, for a little while — I am perishing for sleep.”

And with these words the General proceeded to a haystack near the road, pulled down some of the hay, wrapped himself in his cape, and in a few minutes was fast asleep-his companion exactly imitating him.

At daylight we reached the straggling little village of Dover, [245] where more prisoners were paroled; thence proceeded through a fine country towards Carlisle; at Dillstown procured dinner from the landlord of the principal tavern, a philosophic Mr. Miller, whose walls were covered with pictures of black trotters in skeleton conveyances, making rapid time; and at night reached Carlisle, which General Stuart immediately summoned to surrender by flag of truce.

The reply to this was a flat refusal from General Smith; and soon a Whitworth gun in the town opened, and the Southern guns replied. This continued for an hour or two, when the U. S. barracks were fired, and the light fell magnificently upon the spires of the city, presenting an exquisite spectacle.

Meanwhile, the men were falling asleep around the guns, and the present writer slept very soundly within ten feet of a battery hotly firing. Major R— leaned against a fence within a few paces of a howitzer in process of rapid discharge, and in that upright position “forgot his troubles.” The best example, however, was one which General Stuart mentioned. He saw a man climb a fence, put one leg over, and in that position drop asleep!

Any further assault upon Carlisle was stopped by a very simple circumstance. General Lee sent for the cavalry. He had recalled Early from York; moved with his main column east of the South Mountain, toward the village of Gettysburg; and Stuart was wanted. In fact, during the afternoon of our advance to Carlisle — the first of July--the artillery fire of the “first day's fight” was heard, and referring to Lloyd's map, I supposed it to be at Gettysburg, a place of which I had no knowledge. How unexpected was the concentration of the great opposing forces there, will appear from General Stuart's reply, “I reckon not,” when the firing was spoken of as “near Gettysburg.” No one then anticipated a battle there-Generals Lee and Meade almost as little as the rest.

In spite of the broken-down condition of his command, Stuart moved at once-and whole columns went to sleep in the saddle. Pennsylvania had so far proved to us a veritable “Land of Drowsy-head!”

This night march was the most severe I ever experienced. The [246] long succession of sleepless nights had prostrated the strongest, and General Stuart and his staff moving without escort on the Willstown road, passed over mile after mile asleep in the saddle. At dawn, the General dismounted in a clump of trees by the roadside; said, “I am going to sleep two hours;” and wrapping himself in his cape simply leaned against a tree and was immediately asleep. Everybody imitated him, and I was awakened by the voice of one of the couriers, who informed me that “the General was gone.” Such was the fact-Stuart had risen punctually at the end of the two hours, stretched himself, mounted, and ridden on sotus, a wandering Major-General in the heart of Pennsylvania! In the afternoon the cavalry were at Gettysburg.


General Stuart arrived with his cavalry on the evening of the “second day's fight” at Gettysburg, and took position on the left of Ewell, whose command composed the left wing of the army.

All Stuart's energies were now bent to acquire an accurate idea of the ground, and hold the left against the enemy's horse, who were active and enterprising. In reconnoitring their position on the railroad, he was suddenly fired upon at close quarters --the bullets passing in dangerous proximity-and having thus satisfied himself of the enemy's whereabouts, the General returned to his impromptu headquarters, namely a tree on the side of the Heidelburg road, about a mile from the town. Meanwhile we had learned the particulars of the two hard fights-A. P. Hill's on the evening of the first of July; and Longstreet's on the second, when he made that desperate flank attack on the enemy's left at Round Top. It is easy to see, now, that this assault was the turning point of the tremendous struggle. For thirty minutes the issue hung suspended in the balances, and there is some truth in the rhetorical flourish of a Northern verse writer, to the effect that “the century reeled,” when Longstreet paused on the brow of the hill. Had he gained possession of the Round Top, General Meade's line would have been taken in flank and reverse; he [247] would doubtless have been forced to fall back to another position; this would have been undertaken under the fire of the Southern cannon and muskets; and once in motion it is doubtful if the U. S. army could have been brought up to a new struggle. If not, Baltimore and Washington would speedily have been occupied by the Southern forces — the result of which would probably have been peace.

But this is a long digression from the cavalry operations. The “third day” dawned; Stuart took post with his cavalry on the extreme right and rear of the Federal forces-and the thunder opened. We could only hear the battle, not see it. The Federal cavalry kept us quite busy. It was handled here with skill and gallantry — the heavy lines were seen to form, the officers galloping up and down; three measured cheers were given by the men, apparently by formal military order, they were so regular; then the bugle sounded, and the blue horsemen came on shaking the ground with their trampling hoofs. The struggle was bitter and determined, but brief. For a moment the air was full of flashing sabres and pistol smoke, and a wild uproar deafened the ears; then the Federal horse gave back, pursued by their opponents. We lost many good men, however; among the rest, General Hampton was shot in the side, and nearly cut out of the saddle by a sabre stroke. Ten minutes before I had conversed with the noble South Carolinian, and he was full of life, strength, and animation. Now he was slowly being borne to the rear in his ambulance, bleeding from his dangerous wounds. General Stuart had a narrow escape in this charge, his pistol hung in his holster, and as he was trying to draw it, he received the fire of barrel after barrel from a Federal cavalryman within ten paces of him, but fortunately sustained no injury.

Having failed in this charge the enemy did not attempt another; the lines remained facing each other, and skirmishing, while the long thunder of the artillery beyond, indicated the hotter struggle of Cemetery Hill. Pickett's Virginians, we afterwards knew, were making their “wild charge” at that moment: advancing into that gulf of fire from which so few were to return; [248] Kemper was being shot down; Armistead was falling as he leaped his horse over the Federal breastworks — the fate of Gettysburg was being decided.

Night settled down, and still ignorant of the result, Stuart rode along the whole front where the sharpshooters were still firing. In the yard of a house there was a dead man lying, I remember, in a curious position — as men killed in battle often doand another blue sharpshooter, who had been summoned to advance and surrender, was staggering up with his face all bloody. Such are the trifles which cling to the memory.

Returning through the darkness towards the Heidelburg road, an amusing discussion took place upon a somewhat interesting point.

“General,” said one of the staff, “we are travelling in the wrong direction-this road will lead you straight into the enemy's lines.”

“No,” was Stuart's reply, “look at the stars.”

“Well, yonder is the North star.”

“You are certainly mistaken.”

“I am sure I am not.”

“And I am sure you are! However, we can easily decide.”

And the General drew from his pocket a small portable compass which he had carried with him on the prairies of the West, when in the U. S. army. The compass overthrew the General, and vindicated the good judgment of the staff officer. Laughter followed; the direction of march was changed; a wide ditch leaped; and we gained the Heidelburg road — the staff pushing on intent on sleep, a single courier being left with the General. The sequel was amusing. The General went to sleep in the saddle: the courier rode on: and the General's horse not recognising headquarters in the dark, quietly walked on by, and nearly carried Major-General Stuart into the cavalry pickets of the enemy.

These minute details will, I fear, prove less interesting to the reader than to him who recalls them. The length of the narrative dictates, for the future, a more rapid summary. The third day's fight decided the event of Gettysburg, and General Lee fell back toward the Potomac, not very hotly pursued. Nothing is more [249] erroneous than the idea that the Southern army was “demoralized” by the result of the bloody actions of these three memorable days. Their nerve was unshaken, their confidence in Lee and themselves unimpaired. Longstreet said truly that he desired nothing better than for General Meade to attack his positionthat his men would have given the Federal troops a reception such as they had given Pickett. The stubborn resolution of the Army of Northern Virginia was thus unbroken-but the game was played for the time. The army was moving back, slow and defiant, to the Potomac.

The cavalry protected its flanks and rear, fighting in the passes of South Mountain, and holding obstinately the ridge in front of Boonsboro, while General Lee formed his line to cover the crossing at Falling Waters and Williamsport. Here, near Boonsboro, Stuart did some of his hardest fighting, and successfully held his ground, crowning every knoll with the guns of his horse artillery. When the infantry was in position, the cavalry retired, and took position on the flanks — the two armies faced each other, and a battle seemed imminent-when one morning General Meade discovered that General Lee was on the south bank of the Potomac.

It is said that the Federal commander designed attacking Lee that day, against the opinion of his officers. What would have been the result? That is a difficult question. A humble soldier of the Southern army may, however, be permitted to say that a rout of the army of Northern Virginia, under Lee, never seemed to him possible. Nor was it ever routed. It was starved, and it surrendered.

General Lee was thus over with his army, where provisions and ammunition were obtainable; and the opposing forces rested. Then General Meade advanced, his great adversary made a corresponding movement, and about the first of August the cavalry were once more posted in Culpeper.

In about six weeks they had marched many hundreds of miles; fought a number of battles; lost about one-third of their force by death in action, or disabling wounds; and were again on the war-harried banks of the Rappahannock.



A few words will terminate this sketch of the summer campaign of 1863.

Of this great ride with the cavalry through Pennsylvania, the present writer has preserved recollections rather amusing and grotesque, than sad or tragic. The anxiety expressed by a fat lady of Dutch origin, to secure a blue postage stamp with the head of President Davis upon it, a gentleman whom she evidently expected to find endued with horns and tail en Diable; the manner in which an exceedingly pretty damsel in a town through which the army was retreating, turned her back upon the writer, as he smiled respectfully upon catching her eye; turned her back, tossed her head, and “looked daggers;” the air of hauteur and outraged feeling with which another refused to lend a coffeepot, not even melting at the offender's low bow, and “I will not insist, madam” --these return to memory and make the recollection of those times more amusing than disagreeable. We were sore then, but time obliterates pain, and heals nearly every wound. There were harsh emotions, painful scenes, and bitter hostility; but there were some of the amenities of war too; among which I recall the obliging manner in which Major P , of the United States cavalry, enabled me to gratify some lady friends in Virginia.

The Major was brought in to the headquarters-or bivouac, rather — in a grassy yard near Hagerstown, during the absence of General Stuart, and whilst the present writer was in command. I found him very much of a gentleman; laughed at his description of the manner in which he was captured-“Your men snapped a carbine at me, and then ‘halted’ me!” --and simply took his parole not to attempt escape, after which we lay down and slept on the grass, the major sharing my blankets. On the next morning we were perfectly intimate; and hearing me express a wish to secure some “greenbacks” for the purchase of small articles in Hagerstown, where Confederate money would not pass, the major politely pulled out his purse, declaring that [251] he would exchange dollar for dollar “as he only wished to have enough of money to buy cigars in Richmond.” The comedy of the scene which ensued lay in the mutual anxiety of Major P— and the present writer, lest each should wrong the other. Each was afraid he would get the advantage of his companion, and the polite speeches delivered on the occasion were truly admirable. An equitable arrangement was finally made. I came into possession of about forty dollars in Federal money, and with this bought out nearly the whole stock of lace, ribands, and handkerchiefs of a milliner's store, to the extreme but suppressed amusement of the young lady behind the counter, who disinterestedly gave her advice in the selection. With this big bundle on the pommel of his saddle, the present writer made his exit from the State of Maryland!

Such, in rapid and discursive outline, was the march of the cavalry “to Gettysburg and back again,” in that last year but one of the great civil war. Scores of miles were passed over, while the weary cavalry-man who writes this, slept in the saddle. So, it is no wonder Pennsylvania appears to him to-day like a land seen in a dream! Gettysburg was, however, a rough waking, and over that far locality where the fate of the struggle was decided, a lurid cloud seems to hang, its edges steeped in blood. “Gettysburg! Gettysburg!” That murmur comes to the lips of many whose dear ones sleep their last sleep under the sod there; but this souvenir is sad. Let me remember rather the gay laugh of Stuart; the voices of Fitz Lee, Hampton, and their noble comrades; the fun, the frolic, and the adventure of the long journey, when so much mirth lit up the dark horizon of war.

It is a hard and brutal business, the trade of war; but the odd, grotesque, and bizarre mix everywhere with the tears and the blood. All were mingled in this heavy work of the bustling year 1863.

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 Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Gettysburg (Pennsylvania, United States) (12)
Rockville, Md. (Maryland, United States) (7)
Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania, United States) (7)
Carlisle, Pa. (Pennsylvania, United States) (4)
Westminster (Maryland, United States) (3)
Virginia (Virginia, United States) (3)
Manassas, Va. (Virginia, United States) (3)
Leesburg (Virginia, United States) (3)
Jefferson, Md. (Maryland, United States) (3)
Dover, N. H. (New Hampshire, United States) (3)
Upperville (Virginia, United States) (2)
Rappahannock (Virginia, United States) (2)
New Salem (Massachusetts, United States) (2)
Hanovertown (Virginia, United States) (2)
Hagerstown (Maryland, United States) (2)
Dutch (West Virginia, United States) (2)
Bucklands (Nevada, United States) (2)
Brookville (Pennsylvania, United States) (2)
Boonsboro (Maryland, United States) (2)
York, Pa. (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
Williamsport (Maryland, United States) (1)
Waterloo, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Wade Hampton (South Carolina, United States) (1)
United States (United States) (1)
Swan Point (Maryland, United States) (1)
South Mountain (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
Shelbyville (Alabama, United States) (1)
Salem (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Richmond (Virginia, United States) (1)
Quaker (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Paris (Virginia, United States) (1)
Middleburg (Virginia, United States) (1)
Middleburg (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
Maryland (Maryland, United States) (1)
Haymarket (Virginia, United States) (1)
Georgetown (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Fleetwood Hill (Virginia, United States) (1)
Falling Waters (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Culpeper, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Conestoga (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
Charles City (Virginia, United States) (1)
Chancellorsville (Virginia, United States) (1)
Cemetery Hill (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
Capitol (Utah, United States) (1)
Brussels (Belgium) (1)
Bloomfield (Virginia, United States) (1)
Baltimore, Md. (Maryland, United States) (1)
Aldie (Virginia, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1863 AD (3)
July 1st (2)
1866 AD (1)
June 24th, 1863 AD (1)
August 1st (1)
June 20th (1)
2nd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: