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Chapter 18:

  • Quiet camp life.
  • -- the army in winter quarters. -- a visit to the other side of the Rappahannock. -- Stuart's expedition to Dumfries. -- Christmas in camp. -- purchase of a carriage and horses. -- English visitors.

Neither the thunder of cannon nor the sound of the bugle disturbed our peaceful slumbers on the morning of the 17th, and the sun stood high in the firmament when General Stuart's clear ringing voice assembled us again round the large common breakfast-table in his roomy tent. During the forenoon we had the pleasure of welcoming Mr Lawley and Captain Wynne among us, the latter of whom, a comrade and compagnon de voyage of Captain Phillips, had been detained in Richmond through illness. Amid his sufferings, he had eagerly listened to the rumours of the battle which had been fought and was expected to continue, and he had now hastened, though too late, to the scene of action. Both gentlemen expressed their sincere regret to have come a day after the fair, and envied very much Captain Phillips, whose better fortune had procured him the magnificent spectacle of the great conflict. Our new guests had brought with them from Richmond a case of champagne as a present to the officers of the Staff, although the General himself never took [334] anything stronger than water; but finding no conveyance at Hamilton's Crossing Station, they had, as ill luck would have it, been obliged to leave the precious burthen there under charge of a South Carolina sergeant, acting as hospital steward near that halting-place.

The following day Captain Wynne and Lawley started, accompanied by several members of our military family, for a ride over the battle-field, I myself undertaking an expedition after the anxiously coveted case of champagne; for although I entertained but slight hope of its having escaped the attention of the soldiers, I considered that there was a bare possibility of recovery, sufficient to make it worth while to risk the trouble in so valuable a cause. Alas! my worst fears were destined to be realised. Not a vestige of the case or of the faithless sergeant to whose keeping it had been trusted could I light on, and I had to return all chapfallen from my vain errand, and announce to my comrades that they must make the best of water and good spirits as a substitute for the effervescent stimulant; and, indeed, so cheerily were we all disposed, that our indignation soon evaporated. Much to our sorrow, on the following day all our guests deserted us, and we were left to the unrelieved routine of camp life in all its dull and listless monotony. The bad weather, moreover, setting in with full force, the campaign might be regarded as completely at an end for the next two or three months; and as the hostile army was reported to have gone into winter quarters, our own soon followed the example.

The stroke of many axes rang through the surrounding forests and oak copses, and pine thickets dissolved from the view to give place to complete little towns of huts and loghouses, provided with comfortable fireplaces, from whose gigantic chimneys curled upwards gracefully and cheerily into the crisp winter air many a column of pale-blue smoke. Longstreet's corps remained opposite Fredericksburg and its [335] immediate neighbourhood; Jackson's was stationed half-way between that place and Port Royal; and Stonewall himself had fixed his headquarters about twelve miles from us, near the well-known plantation of the Corbyn family, called Moss-Neck. The weather became now every day worse, snow-storms alternating with rains and severe frosts; and if officers and men were tolerably well off under the circumstances, it was not so with our poor beasts, whose condition, from want of food, exposure, and vermin, was pitiable indeed. The sheds and stables, improvised for them out of logs and pine-branches, offered but scant protection against the battering of wind, rain, and snow, which assailed them on all sides, penetrating through the lightly-thatched roofs, and the wretched quadrupeds stood for the most part knee-deep in water or slush. Ere long a disease bred out of this unhappy state of things showed itself, and spread rapidly throughout the camp, our cavalry and artillery losing more than onefourth of their horses and mules. The symptoms of the malady became first visible just above the hoof, whence it gradually extended, eventually involving the entire limb. We received for forage a certain amount of Indian corn, which was supplied quite regularly; but hay and straw grew every day more scarce, and at last failed us altogether. I had in more opulent times prepared for myself a most luxurious couch of hay, on which I slept softly, as on a bed of eider-down; but the lamentations of my negro over the scarcity of “long forage,” and, still more, the woeful aspect of my animals, soon prevailed on me to abandon this luxury, and lay the sacrifice in their troughs, to be hungrily devoured by my poor beasts. The mules withstood the effects of scarce fodder, cold, and wet, better than did the horses. Especially was this exhibited in the case of my grey mule Kitt, for in spite of hard times she looked as gay and sleek as ever; but it must be added that she displayed an omnivorous appetite. All was fodder to her [336] impartial palate, from pine-leaves to scraps of leather, and even the blankets with which I covered my horses were not safe from her voracity.

On the 21st we had a visit from Custis Lee, son of our Commander-in-Chief, and aide-de-camp to President Davis, who wished to inspect the battle-field and the town of Fredericksburg; and at his request General Stuart and I gladly accompanied him on the expedition. I had thus the first direct opportunity presented to me of leisurely inspecting the ruins of poor Fredericksburg, which, with its shattered houses, streets ript open, and demolished churches, impressed me sadly enough. The inhabitants had nearly all deserted the place, the only visible exceptions being here and there a wretched pauper or aged negro, to whom no refuge elsewhere was open, creeping noiselessly along the silent street. The brave soldiers of Barksdale's brigade, however, who had so nobly resisted the first attempt of the enemy to cross the river, were re-established in the town, and comfortably installed in several of the large buildings now abandoned. The firing of the pickets having once more ceased, a network of friendly relations had begun again to connect them, and an interchange of communications also of the necessaries of life recommenced. To carry on these the most ingenious devices were resorted to, at some of which I was vastly amused. On reaching the river we beheld quite a little fleet of small boats, from three to four feet in length, under full sail, with flying pennants, crossing backwards and forwards between the shores of the river, conveying tobacco and Richmond newspapers over to the Stafford side, and returning loaded in exchange with sugar and coffee and Northern journals. The diminutive craft were handled with considerable nautical skill, and rudder and sails set so deftly to wind and stream, that they always unerringly landed at the exact point of destination. Some days afterwards, this free-trade movement [337] having outpassed the limits which were judged safe or convenient, a sudden embargo, in the shape of a severe and stringent order, was put upon the friendly traffic of foe with foe, to the mutual and unmitigated disgust of both sides.

Next day, under favour of a flag of truce sent by the Federals to negotiate an exchange of prisoners, I received a message from Baron H., an ex-officer of the Prussian army then serving on Burnside's Staff, appointing a rendezvous at Fredericksburg. Although I set off at once, I found on reaching the town that H., impatient of waiting, or giving me up, had returned to the other side of the river. Vexed to have had my ride for nothing, I was, in no very good humour, turning my horse's head towards home, when I fell in with Major Fairfax of Longstreet's Staff and the officers bearing the flag of truce. After expressing their sympathy with my disappointment, they invited me over to the other side, the truce not having yet expired I replied that I should not be justified in complying with their invitation, as I had not, like Major Fairfax, any business to transact, and should be running the risk of remaining longer on the Stafford side than I desired. My cautious scruples elicited a hearty laugh, and, pledging their personal honour for my safe return whenever I chose, they again pressed their rather extraordinary invitation in a manner that would have made it very uncourteous to decline. On reaching the opposite shore, Fairfax and I were soon surrounded by a circle of Federal officers proffering every mark of politeness and hospitality, the latter being manifested by the production of several bottles of wine and whisky, which were soon in brisk circulation. Meantime a number of orderlies had been despatched in search of H.; but after an hour of fruitless waiting I returned with Fairfax, first emptying, as we took leave of our temporary hosts, a last cup of the speedy restoration of peace. On arriving at headquarters I was greeted with a good scolding from Stuart for my [338] escapade; an old fox, he said, should never under any circumstances trust his head in the lion's mouth.

On the 23d we had the pleasure of welcoming once more among us General Hampton, the distant position of whose brigade on the Rappahannock had rendered him a rare visitor of late; but as his absence had been well occupied, his enterprise and activity having inflicted considerable damage on the enemy, it was the less to be regretted. Among his achievements was a raid across the river towards the end of November, with a small detachment of his brigade, when he surrounded and took prisoners to a man two squadrons of a Pennsylvanian cavalry regiment. Twice again, in December, he made similar expeditions to the rear of the Federals with equal success, capturing on the last occasion a large waggontrain laden with forage, provisions, and sutlers' stores, out of the latter of which he now brought us a quantity of luxuries as a Christmas present.

As General Hampton had not yet visited the battle-field, I had much pleasure in tendering my services as his guide and companion on the occasion, and we did not return from the long rambling ride we took over the ground till late in the evening. On the following day arrived Mrs Stuart from Richmond, taking up her residence at a plantation not more than half a mile from headquarters, in the hope of spending Christmas-day with her husband, but unfortunately without taking into her reckoning the extreme uncertainty of the General's movements, always, moreover, kept secret by him till the very last moment. Christmas-eve had been spent in calm unsuspicious enjoyment, amidst long gossips over old times and consultations on the preparations of the next day's festive fare; and we were slumbering peacefully in the early morning, when we were suddenly roused by the sound of the bugle. To my intense astonishment I learned from General Stuart that in an hour he would start on a wide-ranging raid [339] in the rear of the Federal army. With bitter chagrin I found my poor horses reduced, by cold and hunger, to so miserable a condition that not one was fit for duty; two of them, indeed, perished within the next few days. All my efforts to procure a new charger failed, so scarce had horses become, and I had the mortification of seeing the General and those few of my comrades who happened to be in better plight than myself ride off without me to join the regiments, which had already, from an early hour, received marching orders. As usual, however, I did not allow my discomfiture to affect me long, and my vexed spirit soon yielded to the consolation of an excellent “egg-nogg” 1 and a roast turkey, which formed the mainstay of a dinner to which I had been invited by my friend Dearing, of the artillery. Encamped with his battery close to headquarters, in a dense pine thicket, he had, with the help of his cannoneers, built himself the snuggest little log-hut imaginable; and I was entirely restored to equanimity, after dinner, when I heard from my host that Major M., Longstreet's quartermaster, had two horses for sale, one of which would exactly suit my purpose.

Not to let slip so good an opportunity of a remount, I started, the first thing in the morning, for Major M.‘s camp, where I found that, though I had been quite correctly informed, my purchase would be saddled with onerous and unexpected conditions. The horses were not to be sold separate; but, more than this, a lumbering family carriage was to go with them into the bargain. The conditions were absolute, both coach and horses having belonged to a friend [340] of the quartermaster, who, holding a plantation within the lines of the enemy, had, in wholesome fear of Yankee depredators, sent him the entire equipage. It was certainly an odd thing for a cavalry officer in the field to become owner of a stately family coach; nevertheless, I had no alternative, and so, having paid the comparatively cheap sum of 800 dollars for the whole concern, I drove off with my bargain. The laughter and wonderment which greeted my appearance at headquarters, gravely tooling my carriage and pair up to my tent, may be easily conceived.

This setting up of my carriage became an inexhaustible source of joking and bantering, to which I had to submit with the best grace I could; never did jest wear so well or so long; it outlasted by a long span the poor old carriage, its parent, which, after serving on many a merry expedition with the young ladies of the neighbourhood, gradually succumbed to the shocks of the rough roads and ‘cross-country jaunts; and in a few weeks its frame had, bit by bit, resolved itself into its component parts. Only a heap of ruins at my tent door, and the cushions, which served me excellently for pillows, remained as outward and visible tokens of its existence. But the joke lived still, and even General Lee, by no means addicted to the jocular vein, would frequently, on parade or in the battle-field, come out with, “Major, where's your carriage?” and once, in the midst of fighting, he exclaimed, “If we only had your carriage, what a splendid opportunity to charge the enemy with it!”

On the evening of the same day I mounted my grey mule Kitt, the steed I generally selected for night excursions such as that I was bent on, and paid a visit to Longstreet's headquarters, distant not more than a mile and a half. With the [341] officers of his Staff, as with the General himself, I was on excellent terms, and we used to assemble in a large tent which Major Latrobe, Major Fairfax, and Captain Rodgers occupied together, or else in a large hospital-tent in which the three doctors of the Staff-Cullen, Barksdale, and Maurychummed together with a most harmonious result. The mess arrangements at Longstreet's headquarters were always more satisfactorily ordered than those of our own, especially in the matter of fluids, to which Stuart objected altogether, while I far from shared his aversion; so that, whenever I felt disposed to spend a sociable evening where the genial glass was not excluded, I took refuge with these cheerful companions, from whom I knew I could always reckon on a warm welcome.

Quickly did these pleasant evenings pass away, as we related the incidents by flood and field within our experience, or occasionally broke into song. In the latter respect Captain Rodgers was our chief performer; and when he was in thorough good-humour, he would enliven us with reminiscences of his stay among the Mormons, interspersed with select specimens of Brigham Young's psalmody. Whenever Latrobe's party fell short of liquor, the doctors were sure to be in a condition to supply the void; and when Kitt was sent over to them, with a polite invitation, it was generally answered by the simultaneous appearance of the three doctors in person, mounted one behind the other on the brave little mule, and bringing along with them the necessary materials for our social enjoyment. My return from these camp assemblies was invariably at an advanced hour of the night, and often did I owe my safe arrival at camp to Kitt's wonderful knowledge of the road. Once at my tent door, I would just relieve her of saddle and bridle, and let her gallop to the stable, whence the welcoming neigh of my black horse would soon after apprise me of the safe arrival of his intimate friend. [342]

We were much cheered on the following day by the happy return of the waggons which had been despatched in charge of couriers to Loudoun County for provisions to furnish forth our Christmas dinner. The presence of some scouting Yankee cavalry on the road had delayed our messengers; but though too late to do honour to the Christian feast, not the less welcome were the good things they had brought. Among these were thirty dozen eggs, sweet potatoes and butter in abundance, and some score of turkeys. These last-named visitors to our camp were the object of the most polite attentions. In a few hours a magnificent mansion, built of small pine-trees and brushwood, was prepared for them by the united efforts of officers, couriers, and negroes, whose zeal was worthy of the occasion. Stuart's mulatto servant, Bob, was appointed major-domo and body-guard of the household and its inmates — an office which he discharged with no less skill than gallantry, when later the enterprising Texans encamped in our neighbourhood organised a regular succession of nightly marauding expeditions for the capture of our rarae aves.

The replenishment of our stock of provisions which had been thus effected appeared the more timely and valuable when, the same evening, we learned by telegram that Lawley would arrive the following day with two of his countrymen, the Marquess of Hartington and Colonel Leslie, both members of the British Parliament, on a voyage of inquiry, who intended to honour us with a visit. The preparations for their reception were rapidly made with that alacrity which distinguishes the hospitality of soldiers in camp, where all vie with each other in sacrificing their own comforts to render the entertainment of a visitor as agreeable as possible. I myself, having a large round Sibley tent, which, besides an ample fireplace, contained the luxury of a small iron stove, gave it up to be tenanted by the new-comers, and emigrated to a [343] smaller one in which I had scarcely room to turn. Others contributed blankets, of which an abundance was forthcoming. A table and camp-stool were supplied, and the equipments even included a small looking-glass, which dangled from the tent-pole, giving altogether, with the rest of the arrangements, an air of luxury and comfort which was quite palatial.

It was close upon dinner-time when our visitors made their appearance; and after their luggage was stowed in safety, and they had been shown into their temporary domicile, we had the pleasure of conducting them to their place at the long camp dinner-table, the presence on which of a fat turkey and some other dainties evidently created surprise, and exceeded the expectations of our guests as to the manner in which they were destined to fare. We had made every effort to procure some liquor for the occasion, but all we succeeded in getting was a large barrel of blackberry wine, captured by our cavalry pickets. Whatever was thought by our visitors of this extraordinary beverage, they were polite enough to pronounce it excellent. Lawley being already acquainted with the members of the Staff, we soon became on good terms with his two friends, and the night was far on ere we separated.

The moment we had finished breakfast next morning our horses were in readiness, and we all started for a ride to Fredericksburg, and over the battle-field, which presented itself to the astonished eyes of our English friends still stained with blood, and with the marks still fresh, in all their horror, of the past work of desolation and destruction. The day wound up with a great Fandango in Stuart's roomy tent, enlivened with Sweeney's songs and banjo-playing to negro dances; and a monster egg-nogg was prepared, in the mixing of which even Lord Hartington and Colonel Leslie lent their inexperienced hands in beating up the eggs — a part of the preparation, by the way, which requires no little skill, and is, [344] moreover, intensely laborious; and when, after several hours of merriment, we separated at a late hour, both of them agreed that camp life was, after all, not so unendurable.

On the morning of the 30th our guests paid a visit to General Lee, where I joined them, and we rode off together to Moss-Neck, Jackson's headquarters, a distance, as has been mentioned, of twelve miles. We arrived about midday, and were received in a small pavilion attached to the main building, where the General had been prevailed upon, at the urgent request of the owner, to take up his abode. Old Stonewall so fascinated his English visitors by his kind and pleasant manners and the resources of his conversation, that, quite against their previous intentions, they accepted his invitation to dinner, and-instead of a visit of twenty minutes, many hours were spent under the General's roof-hours that sped so rapidly, that when Lawley bethought himself to look at his watch, it was discovered to be very near the hour when we were all expected back to supper with General Lee. Away we started at full gallop; but though our horses were urged to their topmost speed, we reached headquarters far behind our time, and the General had long since taken his simple meal. To Lawley's excuses for our unintentional unpoliteness he laughingly replied, “Gentlemen, I hope Jackson has given you a good dinner, and if so, I am very glad things have turned out as they have, for I had given the invitation without knowing the poor state of my mess provisions, and should scarcely have been able to offer you anything.”

The 31st was quietly spent at headquarters in the discharge of our camp duties and the enjoyment of the bright warm sunshine with which for the space of a few days the winter in Virginia is favoured. Our guests accommodated themselves with admirable facility and good-humour to the discomforts of a soldier's life, and insisted that we should not make any change for them in our ordinary routine, but let them fare [345] exactly as the rest. Accordingly Lord Hartington and Lawley might at one time be seen, their sleeves rolled up, busily washing their pocket-handkerchiefs, and not far off Colonel Leslie energetically at work with a huge pole beating up a heap of mud to a proper temper for the construction of a new chimney to Major Fitzhugh's tent. The day following had been fixed on by our English friends for their departure, but as we had good reason to expect Stuart's immediate return, they yielded to our persuasions and consented to await his arrival, accepting meanwhile an invitation to General Jenkins of South Carolina, where we had an excellent dinner, and enjoyed a very pleasant evening listening to the music of one of the regimental bands, considered the best in the whole army. On returning at a late hour to our headquarters we found to our great delight that Stuart had come back from his raid, which had proved most successful, and resulted in the capture of numerous prisoners and a large amount of booty. Accordingly the General was in buoyant spirits, and gave us a most entertaining account of the entire expedition.

He had as usual operated far in the rear of the Yankees, had damaged their communications, and contrived, moreover, to throw a great part of the army and the generals sent in pursuit of him into a state of utter confusion by intercepting their telegraphic messages, and answering them himself in a manner that scattered his eager pursuers in opposite directions all over the country. General Stuart was always accompanied by his own telegraph operator, who had no difficulty in connecting his portable instrument at any point of the wires, and could thus read off and reply to the messages in transitu. One of these, on the occasion in question, was addressed to the Quartermaster-General, who had just sent off to the Federal army a large number of mules, all of which had fallen into the hands of Stuart. Accordingly, the following message was despatched to this official:-- [346]

I am much satisfied with the transport of mules lately sent, which I have taken possession of, and ask you to send me soon a new supply.

J. E.B. Stuart.

The excitement and consternation this produced in the Northern capital may be imagined. But besides these bloodless devices there had been a good deal of hard fighting in the course of this expedition, and we had to mourn, among others, the loss of the gallant Captain Bullock, whose name has already occurred in these Memoirs. While being carried with a severe wound from the field by one of his friends, a second shot struck him and ended his life. The time had now come when the departure of our friends could no longer be delayed, and they took leave of us the following morning, the carriage I had purchased coming into requisition to drive them over (which I did with my own hands) to the station at Hamilton's Crossing.

1 Egg-nogg is an American drink which chiefly comes into notice at Christmas time, and in the good old days scarcely a house in Virginia was without a large bowl of this beverage standing in the hall on Christmas-day from morning till night for all to help themselves at. It consists of eggs beaten up with sugar, milk, and the indispensable ingredient of whisky or brandy. It is very agreeable to the taste, and has the dangerous property of concealing its strength under the guise of an innocent softness of savour, thus exerting its intoxicating influence on the inexperienced before the least suspicion is aroused.

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