previous next

A dash at Aldie.


In carelessly looking over an old portfolio yesterday-October 3 , 1866-I found among other curious records of the war a rude, discoloured scrap of paper, written in pencil, and bearing date October 3 , 1862.

Four years, day for day, had passed, since those pencil marks were traced. Four years! not a long time, you may say, in the life of man. But longest of long years-most snail-like in their movement-most terrible for that delay which makes the stoutest heart grow sick, were those four twelvemonths between October, 1862, and October, 1866. The larger portion of the period was spent in hoping — the rest of it in despairing.

But I wander from the subject of this sketch. The paper found in my portfolio contained the following words, written, as I have said, in pencil:

Mountsville, October 31, 1862.
I hereby bind myself, on my word of honour, not to take up arms against the Confederate States, or in any manner give aid and comfort to the Federal cause, until I am regularly exchanged.

L.--. Gove, Captain--.


I read this paper, and then went back and read it over again. A careless observer would have seen in it only a simple and very hastily written parole. Read at one instant, it would have been forgotten in the next — a veritable leaf of autumn, dry and worthless.

For me it contained much more than was written on it. I did not throw it aside. I read it over a third time, and it made a dolorous impression on my heart. For that paper, written by myself four years ago, and signed by a dying man whose hand staggered as it traversed the sheet, leaving the name of the writer almost illegible, his full official rank unrecorded-that paper brought back to my memory a day near Aldie, when it was my sorrowful duty to parole a brother human being in articulo mortis.

“A brother human being, do you say? He was only a Yankee!” some one may object. No-he was my brother, and yours, reader, whether you wore blue or gray. Did you wear the gray, then? So did I. Did you hate the invaders of Virginia? So did I. You may have been able to see this enemy die in agony, and not pity him. I was not. And the proof is, that the sight of the paper which his faint hand touched as he drew his last breath, has struck me wofully, and blotted out a part of the autumn sunshine yonder on the mountains.

I have nothing to reproach myself with — the reader shall judge of that-but this poor rough scrap of paper with its tremulous signature moves me all the same.


It was in the last days of October, 1862. McClellan had followed Lee to Sharpsburg; fought him there; refitted his army; recrossed the Potomac, and was rapidly advancing toward Warrenton, where the fatal fiat from Washington was to meet him, “Off with his head! So much for Buckingham.”

But in these last days of October the wind had not yet wafted to him the decree of the civilians. He was pressing on in admirable [275] order, and Lee had promptly broken up his camps upon the Opequon to cross the Blue Ridge at Chester's Gap, and interpose himself between McClellan and the Rapidan.

The infantry moved; the cavalry followed, or rather marched to guard the flank.

Stuart crossed the Shenandoah at Castleman's; the column moved through Snicker's Gap; then from the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge were seen the long trains of McClellan in the distance, winding toward Middleburg and Aldie.

In front of these trains we knew very well that we would find the Federal cavalry under that able soldier, General Bayard, if he did not find us. For we had trains also, and it was more than probable that Bayard would strike at them through the passes of the Ridge. To prevent him from so doing it seemed most advisable to carry the war into Africa by a blow at him, and Stuart moved on without pausing toward Bloomfield. This village was passed; we reached the little hamlet of Union, where the people told us, with what truth I know not, that a party of the enemy had just ridden through, firing right and left upon citizens and children; then pushing on, in the splendid autumn sunshine, the brigade-Fitz Lee's, commanded by the gallant Wickham-reached the vicinity of Mountsville.

Stuart was riding gaily at the head of his horsemen, when Wickham galloped up from the advance guard, and announced that a heavy picket force was camped at Mountsville, visible through the lofty trees upon its hill.

“Charge it!” was the General's reply; and pushing on, he was there almost as soon as the advance guard.

They dashed upon the camp, or bivouac rather, with shouts; bang! bang! bang! from the carbines told that the blue and gray people had come into collision: and then the cheers of the Southerners indicated that they were driving in the picket force upon the main body.

In a moment we had reached the spot, and in a field were the hastily abandoned accoutrements of the Federal cavalry. Saddles, blankets, oil-cloths, carbines, sabres, and coats were scattered everywhere. Upon the ground, a bright red object [276] glittered in the sunshine — it was the flag, or guidon of the enemy, abandoned like the rest. The Federal picket force, consisting of the First Rhode Island Cavalry, between seventy-five and one hundred in number, had disappeared as a handful of dry leaves disappear, swept away by the wind.

The Southerners pursued with shouts and carbine shots-but officers and men, bending from the saddle, caught upon the points of their sabres, as they passed at full speed, those precious “quartermaster stores,” blankets, oil-cloths, so scarce in the poverty-stricken Confederacy. The present writer was almost destitute on the last day of October--on the first day of November he was rich. His cavalier outfit had been reinforced by an excellent regulation blanket, heavy and double: and a superb india-rubber poncho, on which was inscribed the name “Lougee.” If the original owner of that fine military cloak survives, I beg to express my hope that he did not suffer, in the winter nights of 1862, for want of it.

The Federal camp had vanished, as I have said, as though carried away by the wind. The carbine shots were heard receding still toward Aldie-prisoners began to come back toward the rear. The name of another member of the First Rhode Island I can give. A young attache of General Stuart's staff had captured a stout animal, and while leading him, was suddenly saluted by the words, “There is brown's horse!” from a Federal prisoner passing. Brown's horse travelled afterwards extensively, and visited the low country of North Carolina. Most erratic of lives for men and animals is the military life. You know whence you come, not at all whither you go!

These trifles have diverted me from the main subject of the present sketch. I approach that subject with reluctance, for the picture to be drawn is a sad one. It is nothing to record the gay or comic incidents of other times — to let the pen glide, directed by the memory, when the lips are smiling and the heart is gay. To record the sad events, however, the blood, the tearsbelieve me, that is different.

I was pushing on, when a groan from the roadside drew my eyes in that direction. I looked and saw a man lying on his back, [277] writhing to and fro, upon the grass. Some cavalrymen had stopped, and were looking at him curiously.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“The Yankee captain, sir,” replied one of the men.

“The Captain commanding the picket?”

“Yes, sir; when his men ran, he mounted his horse to keep from being captured. The horse was unbridled — the Captain could not guide him with the halter, and he ran away. Then one of our men rode up close and shot him — the horse jumped the fence and threw him-he looks like he was dying.”

“Poor fellow! but I suppose he is only wounded. Look after him.”

And I went on to catch up with General Stuart, who had ridden on in advance.

Two hundred yards from the spot I found him sitting on his horse in the road and waiting for his column.

“General,” I said, “do you know that the officer commanding the picket was shot?”

“No; where is he?”

“He is lying yonder in the corner of the fence, badly wounded.”

Stuart looked in the direction of the wounded man.

“This ought to be attended to,” he said. “I do not like to leave him there, but I must go on. I wish you would see to this-Dr. Mount is at Mountsville, tell him to have the officer carried there, and to look to his wound. But first take his parole. He is a prisoner.”

The General then rode on, and I hastened back to the suffering officer.

The spectacle was a piteous one. He was lying in a corner of the fence, writhing and groaning. From his lips came incessantly those pathetic words which the suffering utter more than all others-“Oh! My God! My God!”

I dismounted, and bent over him.

“Are you in very great pain?”

“Oh! My God!”

“Where are you wounded?” [278]

“Oh! My God! My God!”

I could see no blood, and yet this human being was evidently stretched upon the rack. What he required was a physician; and mounting my horse I galloped to Mountsville, only a few hundred yards distant, where I saw and gave the General's message to Dr. Mount. The doctor promptly answered that he would send immediately for the sufferer, and dress his wound; and having received this assurance, I returned to the spot where he lay.

“Do you suffer as much now?” I asked.

A groan was the reply.

“You will be taken care of — a surgeon is coming.”

But I could not attract his attention. Then all at once I remembered the general's order. I was to parole this man-that order must be obeyed, unless I thought him dying or sure to die. It was my duty as a soldier to observe the directions which I had received.

I looked at the sufferer; could see no blood; thought “this wound may be only very painful;” and, taking from my military satchel a scrap of paper, wrote with a pencil the parole which I have copied in the beginning of this paper.

Then kneeling down beside the officer, I placed the pencil in his hand, read the parole, and he attached his name to it, without objection-exhibiting, as he did so, many evidences of suffering, but none of approaching death.

Fifteen minutes afterwards a vehicle was brought, and Captain Gove, of the First Rhode Island Cavalry, was conveyed, in charge of a surgeon, to Mountsville.


Here the writer had intended to terminate his sketch-attaching to it the title, “Paroled in articulo mortis.” But in so determining he did not take into consideration the curious faculty of memory — that faculty which slumbers, and seems dead often, but none the less lives; which, once set in motion, travels far. Two or three recollections of that period, and allied to the [279] subject, have come back-among them the attack on Aldie; the ovation which awaited us at Middleburg; and the curious manner in which the heavy silver watch and chain of the wounded officer-taken from his body by an officer of the staff — was afterwards restored to his family.

A word of each incident in its turn.

The force at Mountsville was one of the antenna of that dangerous foe, General Bayard. Touched, it recoiled-but behind it were the veritable claws. At Aldie, Bayard was posted with artillery, and a cavalry force which we estimated from the accounts of prisoners — some seventy in number-at about 5000.

Stuart had only the brigade of Fitz Lee, about iooo men, but once in motion the “Flower of cavaliers” always followed the Scriptural precept to forget those things which were behind, and press on to those which were before. His column, therefore, moved on steadily; and before I had finished paroling Captain Gove, was nearly out of sight.

Nothing now detained me, and pushing on at full gallop, I came up with Stuart on the high hill west of Aldie. All along the road were dead and wounded men-one of the former was lying in a pool of blood pierced through from breast to back by a sabre thrust.

Fifty yards further, the long column was stationary on the road which wound up the hill-stationary, but agitated, restless. From the front came carbine shots.

On the summit of the hill, relieved against the sky, was the form of Stuart, with floating plume, drawn sword, and animated gesture. His horse was rearing; his sabre, as he whirled it around his head, flashed like lightning in the October sun. No officer was with him-he had distanced all. I never saw him more impatient.

“Go to the head of the column, and make it charge!” was his order — an order so unlike this preux chevalier, who generally took the front himself, that I would not record it, did I not recall the exact words-“tell them to charge right in!”

A storm of bullets hissed around the speaker; his horse was dancing the polka on his hind feet.

Before I had reached the head of the column, going at a run, [280] Stuart was there too. Then the cause of the halt was seen. The enemy had dismounted a double line of marksmen — if they were not infantry-and those adventurous cavaliers who had pushed on into the hornets' hive, Aldie, had fallen back, pursued by balls. At the same moment the Federal artillery was seen coming into position at a rapid gallop on the opposite hill.

Stuart threw one fiery glance in that direction, flashed a second towards the front, and said briefly:

Tell Wickham to form on the hill, and bring up Pelham at a gallop!

The order was delivered to Wickham; then I went to hurry Pelham. I found him advancing, alone, at a walk, riding a huge artillery horse, his knees drawn up by the short stirrups.

“The pieces are coming at a gallop,” was his smiling answer; “anything going on?”

“The General is going to fall back to the hill, and needs the guns.”

“All right; they'll be there.”

And soon the roll of wheels, and the heavy beat of artillery horses' hoofs, was heard. A cloud of dust rose behind. The pieces approached at a gallop, and ascending the hill, came into position, flanked by cavalry. Then they opened, and at the third shot the Federal artillery changed its position. I always thought they must have known when Pelham was opposed to them. In the Southern army there was no greater artillerist than this boy.

Stuart was now upon the hill, where he had drawn up his line to meet Bayard's charge. He had scarcely made his dispositions, however, when a mounted man approached him at full gallop, from the side of Mountsville, that is to say, his rear, and delivered a message.

The face of the General flushed, and he threw a rapid glance in that direction. He had received intelligence that a heavy force of the enemy was closing in upon his rear from the side of Leesburgh. With Bayard's 5000 in front, and that column in rear, the little brigade seemed to be caught in a veritable hornets' nest. [281]

But to extricate himself without difficulty from every species of “tight place,” seemed to be a peculiar faculty of Stuart's. He gave an order to Wickham; the cavalry moved slowly back, with the enemy's shell bursting above them. Pelham limbered up coolly; the column headed to the left; a friendly by-road, grassy, skirted with trees and unperceived by the enemy, presented itself; and in fifteen minutes the whole Southern force was out of Bayard's clutch, moving steadily across to Middleburg. Stuart was out of the trap.

At Middleburg, that charming little town, dropped amid the smiling fields of Loudoun, the General and his followers were received in a manner which I wish I could describe; but it was indescribable. The whole hamlet seemed to have been attacked by a sudden fit of joyous insanity. Men, women, and children, ran from the houses, shouting, laughing, cheering-crazy, it appeared, for joy, at sight of the gray horsemen. Six hours before they were in the “enemy's country,” and the streets had been traversed by long columns of blue cavalry. Now the same streets resounded to the hoofstrokes of Stuart's men, clad in no precise uniform, it might be-real nondescripts-but certainly there was not a single “blue-bird” among them, unless he was a prisoner.

It was this spectacle of gray nondescripts which aroused the general enthusiasm. As Stuart advanced, superb and smiling, with his brilliant blue eyes, his ebon plume, his crimson scarf, and his rattling sabre, in front of his men, the town, as I have said, grew wild. His hand was grasped by twenty persons; bright eyes greeted him; beautiful lips saluted him. Believe me, reader, it was something to be a soldier of the C. S. A., when the name of that soldier was Stuart, Jackson, Gordon, or Rodes. Fair hands covered them with flowers, cut off their coat-buttons, and caressed the necks of the horses which they rode. Better still than that, pure hearts offered prayers for them; when they fell, the brightest eyes were wet with tears.

Most striking of all scenes of that pageant of rejoicing at Middleburg, was the ovation in front of a school of young girls. The house had poured out, as from a cornucopia, a great crowd of damsels, resembling, in their variegated dresses, a [282] veritable collection of roses, tulips, and carnations. They were ready there, these living flowers, to greet their favourite, when he appeared; and no sooner did his column come in sight in the suburbs than a wind seemed to agitate the roses, tuips, and carnations; a murmur rose-“He is coming!”

Then at sight of the floating plume the tempest of welcome culminated. Beautiful eyes flashed, fair cheeks flushed, red lips were wreathed with smiles; on every side were heard from the young maidens, fairly dancing for joy, exclamations of rapturous delight.

As he came opposite the spot Stuart halted, and taking his hat off, saluted profoundly. But that was not enough. They had not assembled there to receive a mere bow. In an instant his hand was seized; he was submerged in the wave of flowers; for once, the cavalier who had often said to me, “I never mean to surrender,” was fairly captured. Nor did he seem to regret it. He returned good for evil, and appeared to be actuated by the precept which commands us to love our enemies. Those enemies pressed around him; overwhelmed him with their thanks; grasped his hands, and allowed the brave soldier's lip, as he bent from the saddle, to touch the fresh roses of their cheeks.

Do you blame them? I do not. Do you say that they were too “forward?” Believe me, your judgment is harsh. This soldier was a pure-hearted Christian gentleman, who had fought for those children, and meant to die for them soon. Was it wrong to greet him thus, as he passed, amid the storm? and does any young lady, who kissed him, regret it? Do not be afraid, mademoiselle, should you read this page. The lip which touched your cheek that day never trembled when its owner was fighting, or going to fall, for you. That hand which you pressed was a brave and honest Virginian's. That heart which your greeting made beat faster and more proudly, was one which never shrank before the sternest tests of manhood; for it beat in the breast of the greatest and noblest of our Southern cavaliers!

When Stuart lay down in his bivouac that night, wrapping his red blanket around him by the glimmering camp fire, I think he must have fallen asleep with a smile on his lips, and that the hand of night led him to the land of Pleasant Dreams!



A few words will end the present sketch. They will refer to the manner in which the watch and chain of Captain Gove were returned.

In the year 1863, the cavalry headquarters were at “Camp Pelham,” near Culpeper Court-house.

The selection of that title for his camp by Stuart, will indicate little to the world at large. To those familiar with his peculiarities it will be different. Stuart named his various headquarters after some friend recently dead. “Camp Pelham” indicated that this young immortal had finished his career.

Pelham, in fact, was dead. At Manassas, Williamsburg, Cold Harbour, Groveton, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and a hundred other battles, he had opposed his breast to the storm, but no bullet had ever struck him. In the hard and bitter struggle of Kelly's Ford, with Averill, in March, 1863, he had fallen. The whole South mourned him-dead thus at twenty-four. Stuart wept for him, and named his new quarters “Camp Pelham.”

To-day, in this autumn of 1866, the landscape must be dreary there; the red flag floats no more, and Pelham lives only in memory. But that is enough. There are some human beings who, once encountered, “dare you to forget.”

To terminate my sketch. In those days of 1863, I had long forgotten Mountsville, the little fight there, and Captain Govefor the months of war are long-when one evening at “Camp Pelham” I saw approach a small party of cavalrymen escorting a Federal prisoner. This was so common an occurrence that it attracted no attention. The loungers simply turned their heads; the men dismounted; the orderly announced the fact to the General, and the Federal prisoner, who was an officer, disappeared behind the flap of General Stuart's tent.

Half an hour afterwards the General came out with the prisoner, a short, thick-set man, and approaching the fire in front of my tent, introduced him to me as Captain Stone, of the United States Army. Then, drawing me aside, the General said:

I wish you would make Captain Stone's time pass as agreeably [284] as possible. We ought to treat him well. In fording a stream near Warrenton, after his capture, he saved the life of Colonel Payne. The Colonel was wearing a heavy overcoat with a long cape, when his horse stumbled in the water, threw him, and as the heavy cape confined his arms, he would have been drowned but for the prisoner, who jumped into the water and saved him. You see we ought to treat him like a friend, rather than as a prisoner,

added the General smiling, “and I wish you would give him a seat and make yourself agreeable generally!”

I saluted, returned the General's laugh, and made a profound bow to Captain Stone as I offered him the only camp stool which I possessed. Then we began to talk in a manner perfectly friendly.

This conversation lasted for half an hour. Then General Stuart, who had finished his evening's task at his desk, approached, in company with several members of the staff, and everybody began to converse. The comments of Captain Stone upon his capture and his captors, were entirely amicable. He had been “taken in charge” with perfect politeness; and his personal effects had been religiously respected. In proof of this statement he drew out his watch, and commended it as a timepiece of most admirable performance.

“It is not better than mine, I think, Captain,” said a member of the staff, with a smile; and he drew from his breast pocket a large silver watch of the most approved pattern.

“That seems to be an excellent timepiece,” was the response of the Federal prisoner. “Where did you purchase it?”

“It was captured; or rather I took it from a Federal officer who was dying, to preserve it-intending if I ever had an opportunity to return it to some member of his family.”

Stuart took the watch and looked at it.

“I remember this watch,” he said; “it belonged to Captain Gove, who was killed in the skirmish at Mountsville.”

Captain Gove, of the First Rhode Island, was it, General?” asked the prisoner.

“The same, Captain.”

“I know his people very well.” [285]

“Then,” returned Stuart, handing him the watch, “you will be able to return this to his family.”

So when Captain Stone left Camp Pelham on the next morning, he took away with him the watch, which the family of the unfortunate Captain Gove no doubt preserve as a memorial of him.

This little incident has occupied an amount of space disproportioned, it may be thought, to its importance. But memory will have no master. The sight of the paper which that dying man at Mountsville affixed his name to, aroused all these recollections. Unwritten, they haunted the writer's mind; recorded, they are banished. The past takes them. There they sleep again, with a thousand others, gay or sorrowful, brilliant or lugubrious, for of this changeful warp and woof is war.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
J. E. B. Stuart (25)
Gove (7)
Bayard (7)
John Pelham (6)
Stone (5)
Williams Wickham (4)
Fitz Lee (4)
McClellan (3)
Mount (2)
George Washington (1)
Rodes (1)
Payne (1)
Lougee (1)
Stonewall Jackson (1)
Govefor (1)
Gordon (1)
Castleman (1)
Buckingham (1)
John Brown (1)
Averill (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: