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Chapter 9:

It now appeared, from the presence of large bodies of the enemy at all the fords of the river, and the activity they displayed in fortifying every available site, that McClellan was determined to raise an impregnable barrier against our attempts upon Maryland. From Washington to Harper's Ferry the riverbank seemed to be one vast line of mud forts and field-works, well armed and guarded, while the continual ascent of smoke from inland camps made us aware that large bodies of troops were waiting orders. Although possessed of fine sites for counter-fortifications, General Evans never essayed to build, and save one small field-work that crowned a rising ground midway between Edwards's Ferry and Leesburgh, and our own invaluable bodies, we had nothing to withstand the enemy's approach. “Don't talk to me of earthworks,” Evans would petulantly exclaim; “I have more fortifications now than I can well arm; besides, these Mississippians don't want to commence digging; they want to fight, not to build. As long as I have such a brigade in. command, I can safely defy all that old Stone can do. In fact, if I had but two or three more regiments, I would cross over and whip the rascals out of Maryland.”

As October advanced, it became apparent that the enemy were resolved to try once more the fortune of war. McClellan's force was powerful, highly disciplined, and finely appointed; and the clamors of the press seemed to indicate that public opinion would precipitate hostilities. A general of the ranting, raving type of Abolitionism (N. P. Banks, of Massachusetts) commanded Harper's Ferry and the whole line of the Upper Potomac, and it was confidently expected that he would succeed in breaking “the backbone of rebellion.” On our side, to [79] watch and profit by the false moves of this New-Englander, General Turner Ashby and his cavalry were stationed at Charlestown, in the Shenandoah Valley, and kept continually hovering between that point and Harper's Ferry, intercepting supplies, capturing foraging parties, and making frequent dashes into the enemy's line, and even occasionally crossing into Maryland, burning railroad bridges, and destroying the Washington and Ohio Canal-one of the chief sources of Federal supplies. At the same time Evans's force was distributed along the river, and our light battery was continually moving from point to point, shelling the enemy's camps. Occasionally they would take up a favorable position, wait for the military train at Point of Rocks, and destroy a locomotive or two; but their favorite practice was firing at canal-boats as they approached Washington with supplies. Confederate forces had rendered the Lower Potomac unnavigable by numerous batteries armed with Armstrong and Whitworth guns, and we endeavored to imitate the example by stopping all traffic on the north banks of the Upper Potomac. These incessant demonstrations and the raids of Ashby's cavalry so incensed the Federal troops that they swore eternal enmity against every Secessionist.

Being out on picket, we enjoyed ourselves amazingly among the farmers, who willingly furnished all things needful, and as our camps were near the little town of Waterford, many pleasant hours were spent there among the pretty Quakeresses and widows — the latter being numerous and handsome. With their little town of one street screened by surrounding hills, the inhabitants seemed perfectly happy and contented: they possessed a fine mill, two woollen cloth factories, several tanneries; had a large meeting-house, two small chapels, a newspaper, and excellent grazing land all around them. In general aspect, Waterford looked much like an English village, only that the inhabitants were prouder in step, wore better clothes, and had rosy, well-cut features that plainly indicated the best of “blood.” A large number of the men had decamped into Maryland; but the women, Heaven bless them! were as true as steel, and behaved like heroines on all occasions.

From deserters and intercepted travellers we gleaned particles [80] of information occasionally, which left little doubt that recent acts of boldness were but forerunners of mischief,. and every day witnessed greater vigilance and caution on the part of officers. The more distant detachments were called in, and, save a picket guard, under special instructions, our whole force fell back some ten miles to Goose Creek, at which point all flanking forces from Drainsville must of necessity make their first appearance. This was a ruse designed to bewilder the enemy, who were accurately informed of all our movements by spies among the townspeople of Leesburgh. As for our men, what this habitual retreating and advancing might mean, none could tell — it sufficed that Evans ordered it, and the men obeyed cheerfully, although frequently compelled to march in drenching rains and impassable mud. In order to be positively informed of the enemy's movements and intentions, several Marylanders in our command volunteered to cross the river, dodge the pickets, and push into the interior as far as Baltimore, sixty miles distant. The most remarkable of these daring fellows, Elijah White, was a rich Maryland planter, who possessed several fine plantations around Poolesville, but had forsaken all and joined a cavalry company in Loudon County. His knowledge of localities was so perfect that he was the acknowledged authority in all matters regarding the topography of the country from Alexandria to Harper's Ferry. He frequently swam the Potomac at different points, and knew more fords in it than any octogenarian within a hundred miles. The enemy set all kinds of traps to catch him, but his magnificent grey mare had such speed and endurance that he passed like a phantom from place to place. He was singularly reserved ins manner, although gay and buoyant; and there can hardly be a doubt that the master passion furnished a chief motive for his frequent wild adventures. Be that as it may, his services were invaluable in time of necessity, and his daring greatly relieved the anxiety of Evans, for whose discomfiture the enemy were continually manoeuvring.

We had pitched tents one evening, after a long march in the cold winds, and were lying down for a smoke on a bundle of hay by the camp-fire, when I heard the jingling of spurs and harness, and looking up, saw White on his grey wearily [81] ambling by. The invitation to take a cup of bona fide coffee was eagerly accepted by my old acquaintance; and his mare having been well provided for by the black boy, White was so charmed with the savor of sundry beefsteaks broiling on the coals, that he consented to take up his quarters with us for the night. With a circle of some twenty officers and privates, we made a pleasant party round the immense fire of blazing oak logs. Some were engaged with cards; others were writing letters; a fiddle was not far distant, with a laughing crowd of dancers going through a cotillion; many were cooking, eating, and sleeping, and picket-guards were going out on duty. “What's the news, White?” asked one. “How's all the girls in Maryland?” chimed in another. “How much is whiskey worth over there, Lige?” questioned a third; and so on.

“I'm mighty tired, boys,” said the trooper, smoking and reclining,

but we had a first-rate time of it. We fooled the Feds., as usual, and had a jolly old spree in Baltimore; danced with the girls, had lots of tip-top whiskey and cigars, and brought back letters for the fellows; went wherever we darned please; seized two of McClellan's orderlies with despatches-found them in bed a little way back-and brought them over safely, papers and all. We had some difficulty in crossing at the old place; so while some of our videttes were fussing about and attracting attention, four of us, in Yankee costume, swam our horses, and soon reaching a friendly house, changed clothes, and put off again, for we could hear the Yanks galloping about furiously in all directions. Our boys took to the timber, and never left it until within thirty miles of old Baltimore.

Talk of Maryland being sound on the Union question- 'tis all bosh! I've lived there for fifteen years, and should know something about it, and I'm positive that ninety-nine out of every hundred are true Southerners, if they only had a fair chance to express themselves. The truth is, boys, Maryland waited too long, and lost her opportunity to declare for secession. She was waiting till Virginia had gone out; but when that took place her State was crowded with Federal hirelings, and having neither arms nor organization, was obliged to submit to brute force. [82]

Freedom of speech, indeed! or freedom of the press!-it is all nonsense; none dare speak openly, and should the newspaper editors even hint at Yankee tyranny, Fort McHenry is assigned them, without judge or jury. As for habeas corpus!--that is a thing of the past. While I was in the city, the members of the Legislature and Senate arrived, and every one of them who was in the least suspected of Southern feeling was waited upon, either when he landed from the car, or at his hotel, and, without the slightest explanation, conducted to the dungeons of Fort McHenry in the bay! There are fortifications of immense strength overlooking the city, and every gun in every battery is shotted, and pointed at the city! As the tyrants confess with a laugh, “all these works were raised, not to protect your city, but to destroy and lay it in one indistinguishable heap of ashes should the slightest indication of a revolt betray itself!”

And they claim that Marylanders are loyal, and have brotherly love for them! Yes, as much love as the lamb bears the wolf. A lady cannot walk the streets in a dress of her own choice without its being noticed and commented on by hundreds of blue-coated soldiers or spies; and should she wear any colors indicative of Southern sentiment, is immediately arrested and insulted. As for. taking “the oath of allegiance,” so-called, thousands have done so from sheer necessity; but they do not, and will not, consider themselves bound to be faithful to those who have proved unfaithful to every compact and every instrument bequeathed by our fathers. And they are right. What can the thousands of Maryland do? Is not the State overrun by all the villains and spies the North can control or hire? Were they to rise, like raving, unarmed fools, it could only be to be mercilessly butchered by trained bands of hirelings — the offspring's of the earth! Far better as it is, to play the hypocrite with hypocrites! but the day will come when the true sentiments of Maryland and Kentucky will be fully known; and when their fate is inseparably linked to ours, we shall be prone to pity and commiserate, rather than revile them for their helplessness.

Well, Lige, no one disputes all that. We know that old Maryland is “sound” enough, and has two or three full [83] regiments at Manassas; but take a drink out of Tom's canteen-prime old rye, too-and go on with your trip,

said one who was yawning, and wanted something exciting to keep him awake.

“Well, boys,” continued Lige, refilling his pipe,

one of my trips is much like another. As we approached Baltimore I told the boys we had better separate, and meet as strangers at one of the hotels. We did so, and as the guard was not over-vigilant around or in town, I got along very well, and met several friends, taking good care to avoid any I suspected. Having stabled the mare at an out-of-the-way place, I called on an old friend, and was surprised to find him giving a party to some dozen Federals. He laughed, and introduced me as a friend from New-York, and, before long, we passed the bottle freely, and got along swimmingly. I bore out my character as a New-Yorker admirably, and spoke splendidly about the “Union, one, and forever,” the “ Old Flag,” and a hundred other bygone catch-lines; and was put down by the Yankees as “a regular brick.” I did not drink much, but danced with the girls, condoled with them on the trials and privations of the times, and procured a large amount of information, dropped, in scraps, from the half-intoxicated Federals, relative to the number and disposition of troops on the Upper and Lower Potomac. That night I slept at my friend's house.

According to promise, I called on one of the Federals next morning, and as he was officer of the day, we walked arm-in-arm over the fortifications, every thing being explained to me, and by well-put questions I extracted all the information possible, and by comparing statements, arrived at pretty accurate facts and figures. From W — I obtained the “sign” and “countersign,” by which regularly initiated Southerners might detect each other, and by this means spent several days very agreeably in the city. I was surprised, however, to find so many belonging to the organization, for I could not be in any assembly long ere signs were exchanged, and I have not unfrequently heard staunch members of the club speaking very loudly in favor of union in presence of the Yankees, when at the same moment signs to the contrary were passed between us They manage this thing well in Baltimore, and have plenty of [84] funds to assist our needy sympathizers who come under their notice. Constant correspondence is maintained with Richmond, and twice a week despatches are sent there by means which the Yankee authorities can never discover.

“How about the ladies, old friend?”

“Well, you may laugh, but of all the Marylanders, the women are the most ardent and open in the expression of feeling, When officers ask them to play or sing, they usually comply by performing the most rebellious kinds of music, in the most modest and artless manner, causing the visitors to sit uneasy in their seats, and look very serio-comic. Not that such things can always be done with impunity; for I know some, and have heard of other instances, where our female friends have been put into jail for speaking or singing seditious sentiments, or for causing excitement by wearing party colors. As for the Baltimore theatres, they are controlled by the Federal authority, and are nightly crowded by soldiers, who sit hour after hour applauding clap-trap pieces, in which Union soldiers accomplish miracles of heroism; or, if they die, it is with the Stars and Stripes wrapped around them, and with a great flourish of trumpets.”

A burst of derisive laughter gave the trooper, who was growing eloquent with his subject, time to take breath, when he continued:

It strikes me, boys, that the Yankee proper may be truthfully termed a theatrical and imaginative being, and be wrought upon by ‘ effect’ more than the French, even, whom they endeavor to ape in matters of taste. From childhood they are supplied with a multitude of books of equivocal taste and morality; their historians are partial; their swarms of novelists are persons of fervid imaginations, reared in all the forms of atheism, millerism, free-love, and spiritualism; most decidedly are unreal in all things, save what pertains to the almighty dollar; but in that they are enthusiastic cheats, and worship the golden calf with more devotion than the Jews. Their theatres everywhere, as well as Baltimore, are the public expounders of prejudice and bad taste. Until of late all battle-pieces had for subject the wars with Great Britain, and we know that one Yankee was always considered equal to a dozen Britishers, and [85] on the stage, like Samson, they slew their thousands with loud applause, and ended with a large expenditure of ‘blue fire,’ a waving of banners, and the stereotyped finale of ‘Hail Columbia’ or ‘Yankee Doodle.’ This theatrical taste was well developed at Manassas. Orators first addressed the troops, music took up the theme, and with waving. banners they marched to battle and, with few exceptions, ‘bolted’ at the first fire. There was plenty of shouting, indeed, when out of danger; but though their best regiments cheered till nearly hoarse-though the ‘old flag’ was shaken out to the winds, and ‘Yankee Doodle’ broke upon their ear in brilliant variations — nothing could induce their red-legged desperadoes to advance a second time to encounter our ‘ ragged rebels.’ History has not been just to the North, whose merchants have become princes on the products of the South, and whose books have been volumes of lies.

“That is all very good, White,” broke in a fat old captain; “but go on with the narrative; ‘taps’ will sound presently, and I must be off to my guard.”

When our party had sufficiently enjoyed themselves, and effected the purposes intended, we met and devised plans for the return. From the information of a trusty friend, it was deemed advisable to be extremely cautious, as every thing on the Upper Potomac indicated movements of importance, and the different fords were doubly guarded. General Baker, Lincoln's right-hand man, had been in secret conference with the authorities for several days, and in private circles bragged of what he was going to do. He was not going into winter quarters until the vile ‘ragged rebels’ were driven from his front, and he did so on secession soil, and at rebel expense, etc. Knowing that General Baker was acting in conjunction with Stone, at Poolesville, there could be little reason to doubt after this from what quarter the blow was likely to fall upon us, so we hastened back again as speedily as possible.

The nearer we approached the river, the more difficult it was to proceed. The Yankees had so many men lying along the main roads, that it was almost impossible to travel. We picketed our horses in the woods when near Poolesville, and held a council of war. I proposed to procure the countersign by stratagem, if possible, and go into Poolesville. The rest of [86] the party vehemently dissented from such an adventure, but promised to stay at the house of a friend till my return. Having resumed my Federal uniform, I proceeded cautiously along the road, and at length came within view of picket-guards round a fire, at the fork of the road, which compelled me to halt. Hitching the grey. in the woods, I now proceeded on foot, and crept among the brushwood until within thirty paces of the nearest guard. There I lay for an hour or more, until some one approached, and I faintly heard the countersign of “Bunker Hill” given, and being satisfied, cautiously returned, mounted the mare, and galloped along the road, roaring the Star-Spangled Banner.

“Halt!” shouted the picket, as I unceremoniously approached. “Who comes there?” “A friend with the countersign,” I answered, hiccuping, and pretended to reel in the saddle. “Advance, friend, and give the countersign,” replied the Yankee with a laugh, for, thinking me an officer returning from a jollification, he scarcely noticed the countersign. Passing along I could not help lingering near my old plantations; regiments of New-Englanders were camped upon them, my woods, fences, and barns were all destroyed, and they had converted the dwellings into guard-houses, where dozens of Dutch and Irish were howling in intoxication. Possessed of the countersign, I found no difficulty in passing from place to place, and enjoyed myself until midnight with a lot of officers who were bent on a drinking bout. And now comes the most important part of my story.

One of these men had brought important despatches from McClellan, and was to return before sunrise. “But,” said he, “if they think I'm going to travel thirty miles again to-night, Stone is much mistaken. I shall just go out of town, and put up at P--‘s for the night; what say you, Smidt?” said he to another aide. “You are not going on with your papers to Banks to night, eh? They'll keep, man, they an't important, so let's make a night of it, and put in an excuse of lame horses!” Both agreed to the plan, and about an hour afterwards proceeded on their way together. I knew P--'s plantation very well, and resolved that both their persons and papers should visit this side of the river, and immediately started [87] for my party, with a view to the accomplishment of my project.

Having watched in which room these worthies were domiciled, we lay in wait some time, and then, resolved to commence action by separating them, I rode up to the house, and inquired “if Captain Smidt was there; I had been told he was, and had been sent by General Stone to call him immediately.” Smidt soon made his appearance, cursing and swearing in every dialect of Dutch and English. “Some cot dem tyful hat watched him, sure, unt he was a gone schicken, else how old Shstone know him not gone? ” While I condoled with Smidt, he was seized and secured without a show of resistance. We then waited a short time until P-- was about to blow out the candle, when I knocked again. He was in a terrible temper, and having shoved the candlestick close to my face to see who it was, almost staggered with astonishment. Seeing that he recognized me, I presented a revolver at his head, and placing a finger on my lip, passed in, leaving a companion to stand guard over him, while I went up stairs.

I knocked at the door of Smidt's room: his companion answered me, and I entered. He was surprised, but glad to see me. My remark, that “I had heard him state his intention to stay at P----s all night, when in the tavern, and thought I'd follow suit, intending to go on and join my regiment in the morning,” was quite satisfactory. After smoking and partaking of some brandy I had with me, we talked for a long time on the subject of arms and accoutrements. He had a magnificent pair of Colt's navy revolvers, and it was my ambition to effect his capture without bloodshed. I handed over for inspection an Adams's self-cocker, (unloaded,) and he pushed across the table his loaded weapons. I fingered them coolly for several minutes, and with apparent thoughtlessness cocked them both. Then suddenly presented them at his head, informed him who I was, and commanded him to dress immediately and follow me; “resistance is useless,” I remarked: “the house is surrounded.” Deadly pale and almost paralyzed, the aide dressed and was conducted to his horse. We started off without a whisper, and soon arrived at the spot where Smidt was guarded by my companions.

During my absence the boys had gagged him, to stop his [88] eternal prattle; and when he recognized his companion handcuffed, I thought his hair would stand on end with astonishment! With our prisoners in the centre, we briskly trotted along the bright moonlit road, and ere long caught a distant view of our camp-fires in Old Virginia. The river, we knew, was well guarded, at nearly all points; hence, for the sake of caution, we stole through the woods and formed our plans. It was resolved that two of our party should advance boldly to the river, give the countersign, and inform the picket that they had volunteered to cross into Virginia to reconnoitre. This news would spread up and down the bank, and the mounted men especially would feel anxious to converse with their comrades and attend little to their posts for a while. The ruse answered admirably; and when I saw one particular spot deserted, our party issued from the wood and swam their horses across.. No resistance was offered by our prisoners; we had explained to them the importance of silence and obedience, and our revolvers were always pointed to enforce submission. Scarcely had we crossed when, in the distance, we saw two squadrons of the enemy dashing along the bank. 'Twas lucky we had used all expedition, as some darkies at P-.'s must have informed on us. As I stood in a thicket listening to their angry conversation, I could not help laughing heartily at their annoyance, and they must have heard it; for I heard one say, “ That's him; I know his voice, major!” “ That you, White?” “Yes, that's me; how are you, major? Fine night, isn't it? I shall give you another call shortly?” I could scarcely get out of the way before a perfect shower of shot was dropping all around me. I cantered to town; and here I am.

At the conclusion of White's story, we made some hot punch, as best we. could, and wrapping coats and blankets around us, lay beside the expiring camp-fire, and were soon fast asleep.

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