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The “old Stonewall Brigade.”

In every army there is a Corps daelite which bears the heaviest brunt of battle, and carries off the chief glories of the conflict. In the forces of Caesar it was the Tenth Legion which that “foremost man of all this world” took personal command of, and led into action, when the moment for the last struggle came. In the royal troops of Louis XIV., fighting against Marlborough, it was the Garde Franfais who were called upon when “do or die” was the word, and men were needed who with hats off would call on their enemies to deliver the first fire, and then close in, resolved to conquer or leave their dead bodies on the field. In the Grand Armee of Napoleon it was the Vieux Garde which the Emperor depended upon to retrieve the fortunes of the most desperate conflicts, and carry forward the Imperial Eagles to victory.

In the Army of Northern Virginia there is a corps, which, without prejudice to their noble commander, may be said to represent the Tenth Legion of Caesar, the French Guard of Louis, and the Old Guard of Napoleon. This is the Old Stonewall Brigade of Jackson.

The Old Stonewall Brigade! What a host of thoughts, memories, and emotions, do those simple words incite! The very mention of the famous band is like the bugle note that sounds “to arms!” These veterans have fought and bled and conquered on [371] so many battle-fields that memory grows weary almost of recalling their achievements. Gathering around Jackson in the old days of 186 , when Patterson confronted Johnston in the Valley of the Shenandoah-when Stuart was a simple Colonel, and Ashby only a Captain — they held in check an enemy twenty times their number, and were moulded by their great commander into that Spartan phalanx which no Federal bayonet could break. They were boys and old men; the heirs of ancient names, who had lived in luxury from childhood, and the humblest of the unlettered sons of toil; students and ploughmen, rosycheeked urchins and grizzled seniors, old and young, rich and poor; but all were comrades, trained, united, fighting for a common end, and looking with supreme confidence to the man in the dingy gray uniform, with the keen eyes glittering under the yellow gray cap, who at Manassas was to win for himself and them that immortal name of “Stonewall,” cut now with a pen of iron on the imperishable shaft of history.

It was the Shenandoah Valley which more than all other regions gave the corps its distinctive character and material; that lovely land which these boys fought over so often afterwards, charging upon many battle-fields with that fire and resolution which come only to the hearts of men fighting within sight of their homes. Jackson called to them; they came from around Winchester, and Millwood, and Charlestown; from valley and mountain; they fell into line, their leader took command, and then commenced their long career of toil and glory; their wonderful marches over thousands of miles; their incessant combats against odds that seemed overpowering; their contempt of all that makes the soldier faint-hearted, of snow and rain, and cold and heat, and hunger and thirst, and marching that wears down the strongest frames, making the most determined energies yield. Many dropped by the way, but few failed Jackson. The soul of their leader seemed to have entered every breast; and thus in thorough rapport with that will of iron, they seemed to have discovered the secret of achieving impossibilities. To meet the enemy was to drive him before them, it seemed-so obstinately did the eagles of victory continue to perch upon the old battle [372] flag. The men of the Old Stonewall Brigade marched on, and fought, and triumphed, like war machines which felt no need of rest, food, or sleep. On the advance to Romney they marched --many of them without shoes-over roads so slippery with ice that men were falling and guns going off all along the line, and at night lay down without blankets or food upon the snow, to be up and moving again at dawn. When Shields and Fremont were closing in on Jackson's rear, they marched in one day from Harper's Ferry to Strasburg, nearly fifty miles. On the advance in August, 1862, to the Second Manassas, they passed over nearly forty miles, almost without a moment's rest; and as Jackson rode along the line which was still moving on “briskly and without stragglers,” no orders could prevent them from bursting forth into tumultuous cheers at the sight of him. He had marched them nearly to death, to reach a position where they were to sustain the whole weight of Pope's army hurled against them — they were weary unto death, and staggering-but they made the forests of Fauquier resound with that electric shout which said, “We are ready!”

Such has been the work of the Old Brigade — not their glory; that is scarcely here alluded to-but their hard, unknown toil to carry out their chief's orders. “March!” has been the order of their going. The very rapidity of their marches separates them from all soldier comforts-often from their very blankets, however cold the weather; and any other troops but these and their Southern comrades would long since have mutinied, and demanded bread and rest. But the shadow of disaffection never flitted over forehead in that command. Whatever discontent may be felt at times at the want of attention on the part of subordinate officers to their necessities, the “long roll” has only to be beaten — they have only to see the man in the old faded uniform appear, and hunger, cold, fatigue, are forgotten. The Old Brigade is ready-“Here!” is the answer to the roll-call, all along the line: and though the eye is dull from want of food and rest, the arm is strong and the bayonet is sharp and bright.

That leader in the faded uniform is their idol. Anecdote, song, story — in all he is sung or celebrated. The verses professing to [373] have been “found upon the body of a serjeant of the Old Stonewall Brigade at Winchester,” are known to all — the picture they contain of the men around the camp fire — the Shenandoah flowing near, the “burly Blue Ridge” echoing to their strainsand the appearance of the “Blue light elder” calling on his men to pray with him:

Strangle the fool that dares to scoff!
Attention! 'tis his way
Appealing from his native sod
In forma pauperis to God,
‘Lay bare thine arm, stretch forth thy rod!
Amen!‘--that's Stonewall's way.

Here is the rough music of the singer as he proceeds with his strain, and recalls the hard conflict of the second Manassas, when Longstreet was at Thoroughfare, Jackson at Groveton:

He's in the saddle now! Fall in!
Steady — the whole Brigade!
Hill's at the ford, cut off! We'll win
His way out-ball and blade.
What matter if our shoes are worn!
What matter if our feet are torn!
“Quick-step-we're with him before dawn!”
That's “Stonewall Jackson's way.”

The sun's bright lances rout the mists
Of morning, and, by George,
There's Longstreet struggling in the lists,
Hemmed in an ugly gorge.
Pope and his Yankees whipped before-
“Bay'net and Grape!” hear Stonewall roar,
“Charge, Stuart! Pay off Ashby's score!”
That's “Stonewall Jackson's way!”

Lastly, hear how the singer at the camp fire, in sight of the firs of the Blue Ridge and the waters of the Shenandoah, indulges in a wild outburst in honour of his chief: [374]

Ah, maiden! wait and watch and yearn
For news of Stonewall's band;
Ah, widow! read, with eyes that burn,
That ring upon thy hand!
Ah, wife! sew on, pray on, hope on:
Thy life shall not be all forlorn-
The foe had better ne'er been born
Than get in Stonewall's way!

These words may sound extravagant, but defeat has met the enemy so persistently wherever Jackson has delivered battle at the head of the Old Brigade and their brave comrades, that the song is not so unreasonable as it may appear. And here let me beg that those “brave comrades” of the Old Brigade will not suppose that I am oblivious of their own glory, their undying courage, and that fame they have won, greater than Greek or Roman. They fought as the men I am writing of, did — with a nerve as splendid, and a patriotism as pure and unfaltering as ever characterized human beings. It is only that I am speaking now of my comrades of the Shenandoah Valley, who fought and fell beneath the good old flag, and thinking of those dear dead ones, and the corps in which they won their deathless names, I am led to speak of them and it only.

Of these, and the Old Brigade, I am never weary thinking, writing, or telling: of the campaigns of the Valley; the great flank movement on the Chickahominy; the advance upon Manassas in the rear of Pope; the stern, hard combat on the left wing of the army at the battle of Sharpsburg; all their toils, their sufferings, their glories. Their path has been strewed all over with battles; incredible have been the marches of the “Foot cavalry;” incessant their conflicts. Death has mowed down whole ranks of them; the thinned line tells the story of their losses; but the war-worn veterans still confront the enemy. The comrades of those noble souls who have thus poured out their hearts' blood, hold their memory sacred. They laughed with them in the peaceful years of boyhood, by the Shenandoah, in the fields around Millwood, in Jefferson, or amid the Alleghanies; then [375] they fought beside them, in Virginia, in Maryland, wherever the flag was borne; they loved them, mourn them, every name is written on their hearts, whether officer or private, and is ineffaceable. Their own time may come, to-day or to-morrow; but they feel, one and all, that if they fall they will give their hearts' blood to a noble cause, and that if they survive, the memory of past toils and glories will be sweet.

Those survivors may be pardoned if they tell their children, when the war is ended, that they fought under Jackson, in the “Old Stonewall Brigade.” They may be pardoned even if they boast of their exploits, their wonderful marches, their constant and desperate combats, the skill and nerve which snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and, even when they were retiring before overwhelming numbers, made it truly better that the foe had “ne'er been born” than meet their bayonet charge.

In speaking of this veteran legion, “praise is virtue.” Their history is blazoned all over with glory. They are “happy names, beloved children” --the favourites of fame, if not of fortune. In their dingy uniforms, lying stretched beneath the pines, or by the roadside, they are the mark of many eyes which see them not, the absorbing thought in the breast of beauty, and the idols of the popular heart. In line before the enemy, with their bristling bayonets, they are the life-guard of their dear old mother, Virginia.

The heart that does not thrill at sight of the worn veterans, is cold indeed. To him who writes, they present a spectacle noble and heroic; and their old tattered, ball-pierced flag is the sacred ensign of liberty.

Their history and all about them is familiar to me. I have seen them going into action-after fighting four battles in five days--with the regularity and well dressed front of holiday soldiers on parade. There was no straggling, no lagging; every man stood to his work, and advanced with the steady tramp of the true soldier. The ranks were thin, and the faces travel-worn; but the old flag floated in the winds of the Potomac as defiantly as on the banks of the Shenandoah. That bullet-torn ensign might have been written all over, on both sides, with the names of [376] battles, and the list have then been incomplete. Manassas, Winchester, Kernstown, Front Royal, Port Republic, Cold Harbour, Malvern Hill, Slaughter Mountain, Bristow Station, Groveton-Ox Hill, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, were to follow. And these were but the larger names upon the roll of their glory. The numberless engagements of minor character are omitted; but in these I have mentioned they appear to the world, and sufficiently vindicate their claim to the title of heroes.

I seemed to see those names upon their flag as the old brigade advanced that day, and my whole heart went to greet them, as it had gone forth to meet and greet the brave youth whom I spoke to just before the battle, by the roadside, where he lay faint and weak but resolute and smiling.1

Whatever be the issue of the conflict, these brave spirits will be honoured, and held dear by all who love real truth and worth and courage. Wherever they sleep-amid the Alleghaneys, or by the Potomac, in the fields of Maryland, or the valleys and lowlands of Virginia — they are holy. Those I knew the best and loved most of all, sleep now or will slumber soon beneath the weeping willow of the Old Chapel graveyard in the Valley. There let them rest amid tears, but laurel-crowned. They sleep, but are not dead, for they are immortal.

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