The band of the “first Virginia.”
That band in the Pines
It is always playing, and intruding on my reveries as I sit here in my tent, after work, and muse.
Did I say intruding?
A word both discourteous and unjust; for the music brings me pleasant thoughts and memories.
May you live a thousand years, O brave musicians, and the unborn generations listen to your grand crescendos and sad cadences!
That music brings back some I heard many years ago, on the Capitol
square, in Richmond
From a platform rising between the Capitol
this music played, and it was listened to by youth and maiden, under the great moon, with rapture.
O summer nights!
O happy hours of years long gone into the dust!
Will you ever come back-never?
And something like a ghostly echo answered, “never!”
That band is hushed; the musicians have departed; the instruments are hung up in the halls of oblivion; but still it plays in memory these good old tunes of “Far away in Tennessee
,” “The corn top's ripe,” and “The dear Virginia
0 flitting figures in the moonlight of old years, return!
Ring, clarionet, though the drooping foliage of the elms, and drum, roar on!
The summer night comes back, and the fairy face, like an exile's dream of home in a foreign land.
But that band is not still; the musicians are not dead; they
live to-day, and blow away as before, for they roll the drum and sound the bugle for the First Virginia Regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia.
I heard them afterwards, on two occasions, when the music was charming, and the recollection of the scenes amid which it sounded interests me. The second time I heard the brave musicians was at Fairfax Court-house, in 1861 --or was it in 1761?
A century seems to have rolled away since then.
In 1761 the present writer must have been a youth, and appears to remember that a fair face was beside him on that moonlit portico at Fairfax
, while the band of the First Virginia played the “Mocking bird,” from the camp across the mills.
The scene is clear in memory to-day, as then to the material eye: the moonlight sleeping on the roofs of the village; the distant woods, dimly seen on the horizon; the musing figure in the shadow; and the music making the air magical with melody, to die away in the balmy breeze of the summer night.
To-day the Federal
forces occupy the village, and their bands play “Yankee Doodle
,” or “The star-spangled banner.”
No more does the good old band of the First Virginia play there, telling you to listen to the “Mocking bird,” and Colonel Wyndham
's bugles ring in place of Stuart
The third occasion when the performance of this band impressed me was in August, 1861, when through the camps at Centreville
ran a rumour, blown upon the wind, which rumour taking to itself a voice, said-
All at once there appeared upon the summit of the hill, west of Centreville
, a common hack, which stopped not far from where I was standing, and around this vehicle there gathered in a few moments quite a crowd of idlers and sightseers.
Then the door was opened; from the carriage descended three or four persons, and these gentlemen walked out on the hill from which a view of the battle-field of Manassas
in the distance was obtained.
One of these gentlemen was Prince Jerome Bonaparte
, all knew; but which was the Prince
Half-a-dozen officers in foreign
uniform had ridden with the carriage, and one of these officers was so splendidly clad that he seemed to be the personage in question.
“I suppose that is the Prince
,” I said to a friend beside me.
“No, you are mistaken.”
“Which is, then?”
“Look around in the crowd, and see if you cannot tell him from the family likeness.”
Following this suggestion, my gaze all at once was arrested by a plainly clad person in the midst of the cortege — a farmer apparently, for he wore a brown linen coat and common straw hat, with nothing whatever to indicate the soldier or dignitary in his appearance.
But his dress disappeared from view and was speedily forgotten; the face absorbed attention from the first moment; that face was the most startling reproduction of Napoleon
's — the first Emperor
's. There was no possibility of making a mistake in this-every one who was familiar with the portraits of Napoleon
recognised the prince at a glance.
He was taller and more portly than the “Man of destiny;” but the family resemblance in feature and expression was absolutely perfect.
I needed no one to say “This is a Bonaparte.”
The blood of the Corsican was there for all to recognise; this was a branch of that tree whose boughs had nearly overspread a continent.
Soon afterwards the forces then at Centreville
were drawn up for review — the infantry ranged across the valley east and west; the artillery and cavalry disposed on the flanks of the brigades.
Thus formed in line of battle, the forces were reviewed by the French Prince
, by whose side rode Beauregard
Then the cortege stopped; an aide left it at full gallop-soon the order which he carried was understood by all. The First Virginia regiment was seen in motion, and advancing; reaching the centre of the field, it went through all the evolutions of infantry for the Prince
's inspection; and while the movements were going on, the band of the regiment — that same old band!-played the “Mocking bird,” and all the well known tunes, impressing itself upon the memory of everybody present, as an inseparable “feature” of the occasion!
It was not Napoleon I. who reviewed the forces of Beauregard
; but it was a human being astonishingly like him. And if Prince Jerome ever sees this page, and is led to recall what he looked upon that day, I think he will remember the band of the First Virginia, playing the “Mocking bird” and the “Happy land of Dixie.”
Seldom does the present writer recall the first two names without remembering the third; and here it was-at Leesburg
— that a band of the enemy's made a profound impression upon his nerves.
The band in question performed across the Potomac
, and belonged to the forces under General Banks
, who had not yet encountered the terrible Stonewall Jackson
, or even met with that disastrous repulse at Ball's Bluff.
He was camped opposite Leesburg
, and from the hill which we occupied could be heard the orders of the Federal
officers at drill, together with the roar of their brass band playing “Yankee Doodle
” or “Hail Columbia.”
To the patriotic heart those airs may be inspiring, but it cannot be said with truth that they possess a high degree of sweetness or melody.
So it happened that after listening for some weeks from the grassy slope above “Big spring
” to this band, the present writer grew desperate, and was filled with an unchristian desire to slay the musicians, and so end their performances.
was hailed at morning, noon, and night; Yankee Doodle
became a real personage and walked through one's dreams-those horrible brass instruments became a thorn in the flesh, a torture to the soul, an inexpressible jar and discord.
So, something like joy filled the heart of this writer when the order came to march to a point lower down the river.
The column moved; the point was reached; the tents were pitchedthen suddenly came “the unkindest cut of all.”
The very same band struck up across the river, playing “Hail Columbia” with energy, in apparent honour of our presence opposite.
When we had moved, it had moved; when we halted, it halted — there was the wretched invention of Satan playing away as before with enormous ardour, and evidently rejoicing in its power over us. The musicians played at every guard-mounting and drill;
the drums rolled at tattoo and reveille; the bugles rang clearly through the air of evening; and the friends of General Banks
seemed to be having the jolliest time imaginable.
That miserable band continued to play its “patriotic airs” until everybody grew completely accustomed to it. It was even made useful by the sergeant of a company, I heard.
He had no watch, and economically used the tattoo and reveille of the enemy's drums to regulate his roll-call, and “lights out.”
I thought to speak only of the good old band of the First Virginia; but have spoken too of its rival over the Potomac
A word still of the band in the pine wood yonder, which plays, and plays, with splendid and rejoiceful ardour.
It is loud, inspiring, moving, but it is not gay; and I ask myself the question, Why?
Alas! it is the ear that listens, not the music, which makes mirthful or the reverse these animated strains.
The years bring many changes, and we-alas!
we change cum illis
! Once on a time the sound of music was like laughter; now it seems to sigh.
Does it sigh for the good companions gone, or only for lost youth, with the flower of the pea, and the roses that will never bloom more?
O martial music, in your cadences are many memories-and memory is not always gay and mirthful!
So, cease your longdrawn, splendid battle anthem!--play, instead, some “passionate ballad, gallant and gay” --or better still, an old Virginia
reel, such as the soldiers of the army used to hear before they lived in tents.
Unlike the great Luria
, we long to see some “women in the camp” --or if not in person, at least in imagination!
Has some spirit of the air flashed to the brave musicians what I wish?
Do they feel as I do?
The gayest reel of all the reels since time was born, comes dancing on the wind, and every thought but mirth is banished.
reel, play on!
Bright carnival of the years that have flown, come back-come back, with the smiling lips and the rose-red cheeks, with the braided hair and the glimmer of mischievous eyes!