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How the Southern soldiers kept House during the war.


The experience of Dr. W. W. Parker, Major of artillery, Confederate States army. Did not suffer except when separated from his negro Joe.

A cow with a History—She supplied milk and was used as a pack-horse on the March—Piles of biscuits chosen by Lot—War Reminiscences.


[The ‘solitary horseman’ of the novelist, G. P. R. James, was scarcely more familiar to his once numerous readers than is our excellent friend Dr. Parker to the good people of Richmond and its vicinity. In his knightly figure on gaunt steed as he trots daily in his broad ministrations of mercy and healing, do we feel that the type of the tried and tireless ‘country doctor’ is still personified.

Why shouldn't he be as ‘lovely’ as he is loving? His good wife, noble matron, to whom he so tenderly refers, will, we are assured, vote him ‘sweet.’ Dr. Parker is as gentle as he is ever brave. [319]

Recently a distinguished minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, of which Dr. Parker is a truly consistent member, felt constrained to preach an eloquent discourse on the crying shame and sin and danger of kissing. That crazy jade, gossip, proclaimed that the ‘counterblast’ referred to was directly induced by some fond expressions of Dr. Parker. Encountering our excellent friend on the highway, we essayed to rally him on his ‘peculiarity.’ He thus ingenuously parried the thrust. ‘Why,’ quoth he, ‘an ancient maiden patient of mine avows that she don't believe the idle story; that I never tried to kiss her!’

A year or so ago Dr. Parker paid us a visit in our time-worn house in which he spent his childhood hours.

The bump of philoprogenitiveness of the Doctor is very large. Whilst with us he seemed much taken with the airs of the hope of our mature years, a little boy then not three years old. Upon leaving, our friend desired to salute the tot. It was impossible for the infant to reach up to the towering figure. The difficulty was in a jiffy overcome. We were surprised to see the Doctor drop on his knees, embrace the little one, and as quickly resume his feet. There could be no discussion as to the grace of the act, and we only felt that our boy had been ‘blessed’ in the kiss of so good a man.

Ah! the heart of the good Doctor is filled with the milk of human kindness; it is expansive. We believe that it embraces every man, woman, and child worthy of his love. Yet, the erstwhile spirit militant in him is scarce diminished. His spear is ever atilt in the cause of what he deems the right or toward the suppression of wrong. He goes into every encounter, too, with visor up. He is a manly antagonist, and scorns subterfuge.

In action no one in our community has been more constant in effort in the cause of humanity. In eleemosynary provision no one has been more influential. A multitude will rise to call him blessed. Thousands will cherish him in grateful remembrance.

We trust that posterity will duly commemorate his consecrated life-work of mercy and charity, and that his loved form will yet be given place in this dedicated City of Monuments.—Ed.]

Dr. W. W. Parker's recent address before Pickett Camp on ‘How I Kept House During the War,’ was in the bright vein that marks all of the sayings and writings of that gentleman, and was greatly enjoyed by the large company of ladies and gentlemen who heard it. The well-known physician and philanthropist said:

Commander of Pickett Camp, Ladies, and Gentlemen.

I have been frequently honored by the members of your Camp with an invitation to address you on some war subject; but as often declined, till lately your commander repeated the invitation, and, thinking I might say something new, perhaps, as to how much more effectual artillery might be made in battle, in my opinion, I consented to write a short paper on the subject. But I was surprised a [320] few days ago by the announcement in the papers that ladies would be present on this occasion; and to talk to them about rapid artillery movements would be a piece of stupidity. I have therefore concluded to begin this address on a subject that may possibly interest them. My theme will be


‘How I kept House in Camp.’

I have been trying for some years to get some clever fellow to write an essay on ‘The World Without Women,’ but have failed. I have been asked to write myself, but am not qualified. I have always concluded if the women left the world I would so soon follow them that the discussion would not personally help me.


Would not have washing.

In camp life we have some hint of what would happen if the fair sex should suddenly take wings and fly away, like doves, toward Heaven. One of the things that would soon take place would be the departure of the wash-tub. It is a good thing that sheets are not known in the army. They would never be washed. Were the women to disappear suddenly, no man would have a clean sheet on his bed or a clean shirt on his back two weeks after their departure. I only once attempted to wash a handkerchief in the army, and the result was that the white parts were made black, and the soiled parts greatly extended. I used sand instead of soap.

Sleeping between blankets in winter is well enough. In summer we slept on them. We had, as a rule, dirty shoes, as well as dirty shirts, dirty hands, and dirty faces, dish-rags incredibly and universally dirty. Whether the water was dirty or not seemed never to concern any one; it was this or none. I used to be surprised at the ease with which men found water on a cloudy night, when you could hardly see your hand before you. So soon as the company was halted for the night, a man from each mess would hasten with his wooden bucket and tin dipper to get water to begin cooking. Knowing nothing about the country, it would seem difficult to know which way to go; but as water is found in low places, the soldier would plunge down hills, and continue to go until he came to a creek, and when found he would begin to use his dipper. Sometimes a fellow would be too lazy to go, and would run the risk of begging a little water to make his coffee. They would frequently [321] rob my man Joe's bucket, and as he generally carried two (one for early breakfast), he could spare a little. But, finally, the boys robbed him so systematically that he would hide one of his buckets under the tent-cloth, or in the bushes nearby. I don't think I ever heard the inquiry made, ‘Is the water good?’

Before beginning to prepare his dough for making bread, the cook, if he had plenty of water, would get one of the boys to pour a little water upon his hands, which were wiped upon a dirty towel.


Appetite was always good.

One of the glories of this housekeeping was that there was no complaint of want of appetite. Everything was good. The only trouble was about the quantity. I defy any man or woman to make two dozen biscuit, every one exactly the same size, and yet, if they were not, there was trouble in the mess. It was amusing to see how the cook eyed each one when in a plastic state, turning them around, eyeing their rotundity, thickness, etc. He was an artist. They were, when done, generally put in little piles on the ground or on a bench, and viewed by the boarders with the keenest discrimination. There was much difficulty also in getting the piles exactly the same size, though with the same number of biscuit. In one of the messes it became a rule that the men would turn their backs upon the rows of biscuit and the cook would take a long stick and cry out: ‘Who will take this pile?’ If Sergeant Jones said ‘I will,’ and turned around and found his pile not the biggest, he would exclaim in great disgust: ‘This is the smallest pile on the board.’ But there was generally no further complaint. The poor fellows were so hungry they could not delay to gratify their appetites. When the last man got his pile there was silence, and the scanty meal soon disappeared. It was rarely that the food was well chewed, but it was always quickly digested. There were no overloaded stomachs and there were no colics. One of my men, I will not call his name (a Richmond gentleman) lest I might offend him, would sometimes eat a dozen biscuit at a meal.

One night about 2 o'clock, while we camped very near the enemy's lines, not allowed to speak in loud tones or have any fire, some of the men went off to a neighboring house and got a woman to bake their biscuit. On this occasion I saw in the darkness on the side of the mountain a small group of moving objects, and presently I heard talking in low tones. I became uneasy, fearing the enemy was planning [322] a night attack. I continued to listen for half an hour with increasing concern. The conversation finally ceased, and the men began to move towards me. On enquiring, with some tremor of voice (there was no one awake but myself), ‘Who comes there?’ Sergeant A. replied: ‘We are all right, Captain.’ He informed me that he and his comrades were dividing their biscuits, and I found him loaded down. I think I could guess how many he ate that night between 2 and 5 o'clock.


Only greased the bread.

Towards the close of the war meat became so scarce that it merely greased the bread. The tin plates were scraped so clean that they looked like they had been washed. Coffee had at this time gone out of memory, and the small and scanty repast was eaten with satisfaction and without a murmur as to the failure of the commissary to do better. Heroes, these poor fellows! They knew that all were doing their best, and their sacrifices caused them to love the cause with deathless devotion. With eggs, milk, sugar, and rice, I had dessert two or three times a week—apple dumplings in summer and sorghum pies, though black as tar, were a delicacy. Sometimes I sent a man to Charles City, his home, to see his wife, on the express condition that he would bring me some fresh fish. I remember on one occasion I invited General Alexander to dine soon after the fish came, and I feared he would kill himself eating. When finally the sugar gave out and we did not have anything but black-eyed peas, my dinner was made of them with a little salt pork for seasoning, and one measured quart of water afterwards. But for the water I would have been well salted, and would have kept for years as a mummy. But to return:

These brave men counted not the cross heavy for the cause they loved so well. Oh, patriotism! How brave and beautiful art thou! How unselfish, how patient, how true to friends, and how fearless of foes! Love of country is next only to love of God. I knew nothing of it till I went into the army. I thought it only love of neighbor and kinsfolk and the old homestead. It is wide, deep, strong, uplifting the soul—yea, stronger than the love of life itself. For this you would give up your wife and children, father and mother, sister and brother, fame and fortune.

My pantry held granite, china, a camp-chest, a chicken-coop, a medicine-chest, a stove, made of a camp-kettle, with the top taken [323] How I Kept House in Camp. off and the pipe put inside, which on the march was hung to the pole of the caisson; also, a flat-iron, one guitar, two violins, and a camp-bed. When at a halt the rooster and five hens were turned out to graze, the former tied securely by the hind leg, as Sam Jones would say; the hens were loyal to the captive rooster and would not wander far from the ambulance. Moral: Stick to your sweethearts and husbands, girls!


Cow as a pack-horse.

General Lee allowed me a fine, large ambulance and a pair of good horses all the time, in consideration of my treating my own

Dr. Parker's historic cow, which supplied milk for the battery and also served as a pack horse.
(Reproduced by courtesy of the Richmond Dispatch )

sick men. One important member of my household, not to be forgotten, was a docile cow, that served two purposes—first, to supply milk for the household; second, for transportation. She generally carried the kitchen furniture on her back. She had heard the terrible shock of battle with calmness, and did not tremble at the rattling [324] of tin cans, coffee-pot, skillet, and canteens carried on her back. When any of the men were sick they got milk, which, to a soldier, was nectar. When on the march I would fill my canteen early in the morning with milk for the day's ride, and by 10 o'clock I had butter and buttermilk. By dipping the canteen into a branch now and then the milk was kept cool. These canteens were all covered with thick woollen cloth, and keeping it wet, evaporation was very active, and resulted in cooling the contents. This has been the eastern plan many centuries for cooling their wines, etc. I don't think in one year after the war began I saw a Confederate soldier who had not a Yankee canteen. Our northern friends supplied me with four splendid 3-inch steel-rifled cannon, 100 canteens, 100 oil-cloths, and 100 blankets. This was very kind, for enemies. I don't know how we could have gotten along without them.

But I must not forget my candle-moulds. What are they? some may inquire. I have not seen one for twenty years, and I suppose many of you young ladies never saw one. They are for moulding tallow candles. I hope you will never have to use them. In the Tennessee campaign I saw a boy with the largest moulds I had ever seen. He evidently took it for a musical instrument. I said, with surprise and disgust: ‘What in the world are you doing with those candle-moulds?’ He replied: ‘I picked them up in a ‘Uons’ house.’ (In that latitude ‘Uons’ meant enemy, ‘weons’ our people.) I asked: ‘What are you going to do with them?’ ‘I don't know,’ he replied. ‘Won't you have them?’ I said: ‘Don't throw them away. Give them to Joe, my servant.’ Next winter, on the Howlett-line, I found them of great value. My good friend and good soldier, Billy Mays, of the City Gas-works, was detailed from my battery for the commissary department, and I asked him to get me some tallow. He did so, and I commenced the tallow-chandler business, and it was a success. I occupied quite a large house near the line of battle, and took my wife and servants out there and spent nearly a year. While most tents or cabins had fire-light only, I could afford to burn two candles when I had small print to read, so that my wife and I did more reading than in peace times. These candle-moulds, not being thrown away (note the moral, young ladies and gentlemen), afforded me much pleasure and profit.


Valuable service of Joe.

But I cannot close my catalogue of household things without mentioning more particularly ‘Joe,’ to whom reference has been [325] made. He was sent me by Heaven, I have no doubt. I am telling the truth. Just as war began, and while I was organizing the Virginia Light Guard, in my office, in the law building, corner Twelfth and Franklin streets, I saw that I must get a man-servant to take to the field. Passing down Bank street one morning, I met a tall, straight, polite-looking mulatto man, who walked with a quick step, and I inquired if he was for hire. He said no, but for sale. The price was $700. I at once bought him in, and in the four years alone in which he was with me, from Bethel to Appomattox, he was was worth $7,000 to me. Joe used to tell me he was brought up by his ‘old missus’ in the home with a ‘silver spoon’ in his mouth, and that he was taught to do everything. He was waiter, gardener, butler, washer, and ironer, etc., etc. I found he told me the truth. He could do anything, and do it all well. He was blessed with an excellent spirit, and was trusted by every man and officer in the battalion. When going into battle he took charge of all our watches and jewelry, and never was anything missing. He washed for many of the officers, attended to his ambulance horse, and mine, and arose at daybreak. He was one of the cleanest and most honest cooks, and what was most gratifying, he loved me better than anybody in this world. I advised him soon after the war began to get married. Take notice, my young friends, I believe in everybody of any account getting married; but be certain you don't marry in haste and repent at leisure. Joe was no soldier. He knew his business. When we went into Maryland and Pennsylvania I became very uneasy lest he should make a break for liberty. I kept my eye on him. To lose him would be to lose my right hand. On the second day's fight at Gettysburg I saw Joe coming across the field at full speed. I never saw him in such fright, and he said to me, out of breath: ‘Marse William, I thought dey had me!’ ‘Who?’ I asked. ‘Dem Yankees,’ pointing to the thousands of Federal prisoners on their way to Libby Prison. I was greatly relieved. I had no more fear of Joe's loyalty.


Hurried to the rear.

In Tennessee one bright morning the battery was moving along a pleasant road. I was near Joe's ambulance. We did not dream of the enemy being near, when suddenly bang went a cannon over the hills just in the direction we were marching, and instantly the head [326] of one of Joe's fine white ambulance horses was struck off, with a sinking, hollow sound, and he dropped dead in the traces. I told Joe, as soon as he could, to go to the rear, and I galloped to the top of the hill at full speed to look out for the enemy. I think it was less than three minutes before I looked over my shoulder to see how Joe was getting on with his dead horse. To my surprise, he had cut out the dead animal and put in a live one, and was driving for life and death to the rear. I think Joe's was the fastest time on record. At Cold Harbor my battery was sheltered from the army by an intervening wood, and, while the shells passed near us, there was really no danger. After eating my breakfast, I said: ‘Joe, eat your breakfast and take the ambulance to the rear.’ The breakfast was served on a camp-chest. Instead of doing as I directed him, he hastily gathered up in the table-cloth, coffee-pot, sugar-dish, etc., and, with much agitation, said: ‘Lord, Marse William, this ain't no place to eat breakfast!’ and he and his ambulance were gone in a twinkling. To Joe's good management I can say what probably few other men can say — I suffered only one day in the four years for food, and that was the day I was separated from him. Till Joe's death, some years ago, we were great friends. Every Christmas he brought me a turkey, and would say to my wife: ‘Miss Ella, me and Marse William was jest like brothers in the war.’ His wife continues to eat her Christmas dinner at my house. Another piece of good luck, perhaps more remarkable than this, was that in the four years I was in the Army I did not once get wet. I captured early in the war an excellent oil-cloth, made like a Spanish poncho, with a hole in the centre. With this on, and a slouch hat that turned the rain like a tin roof, and a pair of cavalry water-proof boots six inches above my knees, I have ridden two days and nights in a driving rain without getting a drop of water on me. I did what all soldiers should do; I would never lie down on the wet ground. Many a cold, rainy night I would sit on a log or stump before a fire and sleep with my head in my hands. At one time I had a hammock. They don't answer in wet weather. Sometimes I would sleep on the top of a worm-fence, by separating the two upper rails. It was in these four years that I had no rheumatism. No writer will ever tell of the sorrows and sufferings of our noble private soldiers (I hate the old phrase, ‘common soldier’), who, badly clad, and without shelter, marched day and night in mud and water, barefooted, and hungry, till disease ended their misery. These [327] were noble souls in mean clothes, suffering patiently in a noble cause as ever filled a patriot's breast. Long may they live in our affections, and may we never forget their wives and children.


Had a string band.

The last thing I shall mention as one of my family possessions was a string band. My bugler was a highly-educated German musician. He served an apprenticeship of seven years. He had a good voice. With my wife's $50 guitar and two good violins we had good music. It often happened that on the march there were long and tedious delays caused by obstructions ahead. Sometimes it was a bridge or a broken wagon in a narrow road, sometimes waiting for somebody to come up, but from whatsoever cause the delay was irksome, especially if the day was hot and the road dusty. Under such delay music by the band was ordered, and some would dance, while others would drink in with delight the concord of sweet sound. Others would remember the ‘Old Folks at Home,’ and others again ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me.’ When the band was not wanted in camp at night it could get a good supper by seeking the best-looking house near our camping-ground. Eglin would enter first, almost without invitation, and, seating himself at the piano, would soon attract the whole household to him. There was no need of any further introduction. The cook began to hurry, and hot rolls and coffee were soon spread on the hospitable board for the dusty and tired soldiers. Often an impromptu dance by the neighbors would end the evening. Eglin and Moore have long since departed, but Frank Turnly still remains in Chesterfield. The sweet notes of ‘Lorena’ and ‘Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still,’ even after thirty years, awaken tender memories of departed joys.


Fought a good fight.

In conclusion, my comrades, we fought a good fight, but have not yet received the fruit of our toil, but our reward is sure. We sowed in tears, but we shall reap in joy. How, when, and where, I know not. Some of our reward may be in this world—some in the next. Of this I have no doubt. The retrospect of the four years of army life affords me more real pleasure than any like period in the past fifty years. I know—not believe—I know our cause was just. The man who calls us rebels is a fool; he knows nothing of [328] the rights of man, nor of the Constitution of the State and of the United States. I rest confident of justification in that great day when the Judge shall disclose the secrets of all hearts.

The South asked for peace, and they gave us a sword. No man but the Governor of Virginia had the right then, nor has anyone else the right now, to order me to the field. I would obey our good Governor as cheerfully now as I did Governor Letcher thirty-five years ago. I still love the flag, but not as of yore. Sometimes the first love is the deepest and strongest.

Let no man cheat you out of your inheritance, my comrades. There is not enough money in the coffers of all the banks to buy the proud claim that I was a loyal soldier of the Confederate States; that from Big Bethel to Appomattox I was true to her flag and glad to serve her. This shield I shall hang up in my house for my children's children, when dust shall return to dust, and the soul return to the God who gave it. It is not often the privilege of a man to serve his country for years without pay and on half rations. This has been your privilege, my dear comrades. Wear this badge of royalty upon your hearts, while they beat proudly your grand and solemn march to eternity. This is but a small part of life. Let your last days here be your best and brightest days. It matters not what sort of garments cover your proud hearts. Gold is gold, whether in the rocky drift or on fair woman's brow. God weighs actions, not dry goods. Oh! how I love dear old Virginia! the mother of Washington, Jackson, and Lee.

Virginia! Virginia! the land of the free,
Three cheers for Virginia from mountain to sea.

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