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Chapter 12: settling to the real work.

  • Regulars of the States
  • -- Virginia sentiment -- unanimity of purpose -- Lee and Johnston -- Esprit de corps -- Centering on Virginia -- varied Types of different States -- the Marylanders at the South -- mixed equipments and “Properties” -- doubtful points -- Norfolk to Manassas -- where the battle -- ground would be -- Missouri's first move.
    Notwithstanding the haste of removal from Montgomery, the vast amount of work to be reduced to regular order, and the apparent confusion of the executive departments, affairs rapidly shaped themselves into working form soon after the arrival in Richmond.

    That city, as the terminus of railway travel from the South and West, was naturally the rendezvous for all troops coming from the various quarters of the Confederacy; and, at the date of the change of government, some fifteen thousand were already collected in the camps about the town. These comprised levies from every section of the ten states that had adhered to the southern government-regulars, volunteers and militia and of all arms.

    South Carolina and Louisiana had immediately on their secession organized regular armies, on a more perfect and permanent basis than their sister states, and had garrisoned their forts-and points then supposed most vulnerable — with them. The call of the Confederate Government for more troops had not interfered with these organizations, but had brought into the field new material in the shape of volunteer regiments and battalions of cavalry, artillery and infantry.

    While, as a general thing, the rank and file of the state regulars were composed of the laboring classes, foreigners and the usual useless and floating portion of their populations, officered by gentlemen of better position and education, appointed by the governors, the volunteers had in their ranks men of all conditions, from the hum, blest laborer to the scholar, the banker and the priest.

    They were commanded by men they themselves elected, as being the most competent and acceptable, either by reason of greater ability, or military education.

    Upon the action of her convention, Virginia was found to have been in nowise behind the other states in her preparations. In fact, she had anticipated its somewhat tardy movement and had marshaled into order an array of her stout yeomanry that was in itself no contemptible army. When she joined the Confederacy, she offered to its [94] acceptance over twenty full regiments, and parts of others sufficient to make eight or ten more.

    Almost all the officers of the United States Army and Navy, from her borders, had promptly resigned and tendered their swords and services to her governor. Robert E. Lee — with his great family influence and connection-Joseph E. Johnston, Magruder, Stuart, and a host of others whose names shine bright in the annals of war, had even anticipated the formal act of secession; and its passage found them busily working, with any rank and in any way that could best conduce to the good of the state. With their aid, Virginia, too, had organized a regular army; and, feeling the necessity for prompt action to be imminent, had armed, drilled and equipped it to the limit of her straightened means; and had already begun to put her frontiers into a state of defense.

    General Lee was made commander-in-chief, and the flower of Virginia, from the old army, were made generals and subordinate officers under him.

    The gentlemen of the Old Dominion were not slow to show a good example to the lower classes. Crack companies that had been unused to any more dreadful war than the blank cartridge of a holiday pageant, went in to a man; whole battalions were formed from which no drop of blood might be spilled, that did not flow straight from one of the known and honored of her history.

    Who has not heard of the First Virginia? a name that brings back the grand old days of chivalric devotion and doughty deed! Who in the South does not honor it? though scarce a dozen of the noble hearts that first flocked to its proud banner can now gather round the grim and shattered old lion, who bought with many a wound in front the right to lead it to the fray. And “Co. F,” in whose ranks were the brilliant advocate, the skillful surgeon, the man of letters and the smooth-faced pet of the Mayday gathering-all that made the pride, the boast and the love of, Richmond!

    The beacon had been lighted on the mountain top, and had gleamed by her river sides! The sturdy hunter from the West, and the dashing horseman from the East; the merchant at his till, and the farmer, with hard hand on the plough-handle-all heard the voice of the bugle and answered with a shout!

    Men of all classes — from the highest-born and richest to the humblest [95] and poorest — from the grandsire with his flint-lock to the sunnyhaired stripling scarcely in his teens — with one accord

    Came forth at the call
    With the rush of their rivers when tempests appall,
    And the torrents their sources unseal!

    Thus, when the Government first felt that Virginia was to be the battle-ground and decided to lash its fortunes to hers amid the black billows that were surging around it, an army was already in the field; partially armed, already somewhat proficient in drill and learning, by the discipline of camp and bivouac, to prepare for the stern realities of war.

    In many instances, the posting of their regulars by the respective state governments had been considered so judicious, that the War Department made no change; as, for instance, in garrisoning the forts in Charleston harbor by the South Carolina Regular Artillery, and those at New Orleans by the 1st and 2d Louisiana Regulars. But after the necessary garrison had been left in the most exposed points, every available man was ordered to Virginia. Here the work of organization went on with a smoothness and regularity scarcely to have been looked for. Occasionally a hitch occurred that threatened to get the threads of preparation into an ugly knot; but it was ever unraveled without the Gordian treatment.

    Fresh troops from every quarter were collecting rapidly. First came Gregg's regiment of South Carolinians; and they were met with open arms by the Virginians, soldiery and citizens. They received the first gush of the new brotherhood of defiance and of danger; and their camp-constantly visited by the ladies and even children of Richmond-had more the air of a picnic than of a bivouac. Many of the men and most of the officers in the First Carolina bore

    Familiar in their mouths as household words.

    They were descendants from that other revolution, the political celebrities, or the watering-place beaux; and the houses of Richmond were opened to them at once. Dinners, parties and rides were improvised, and the first comers were voted, especially by the ladies, a “joy forever.” Gradually, as regiment after regiment marched in and the city filled to overflowing with the still welcome strangers, the novelty wore off; and, though the feeling of fellowship and kindliness [96] was just as strong, the citizens found that their hearts were larger than their houses, and that even Virginia hospitality must have a limit. Varied, indeed, were the forms one met on every street and road about Richmond. Here the long-haired Texan, sitting his horse like a centaur, with high-peaked saddle and jingling spurs, dashed by — a pictured guacho. There the western mountaineer, with bearskin shirt, fringed leggings, and the long, deadly rifle, carried one back to the days of Boone and the “dark and bloody ground.” The dirty gray and tarnished silver of the muddy-complexioned Carolinian; the dingy butternut of the lank, muscular Georgian, with its green trimming and full skirts; and the Alabamians from the coast, nearly all in blue of a cleaner hue and neater cut; while the Louisiana troops were, as a general thing, better equipped and more regularly uniformed than any others in the motley throng.

    But the most remarked dress that flashed among these varied uniforms was the blue-and-orange of the Maryland Zouaves. At the time of the riot of the 19th of April, there had just been perfected a splendid organization of the younger gentlemen of the Monumental City — a veritable corps daelite--as the “Maryland guard.” It was as remarkable for excellence of discipline and perfection of equipment, as for containing the very best blood of the city; and, though taking no part — as an organization — in the riot, it was immediately afterward put by its officers at the disposal of the Baltimore authorities.

    When it became apparent that Maryland could take no active part in the struggle, many members of this corps promptly left the luxuries of their homes, their early associations, and even the very means of livelihood, to go south and battle for the principles they held. They unhesitatingly expatriated themselves, and gave up all they held dear-except honor — to range themselves under that flag for which they had declared. Many of them had been born and reared southerners-many had only the chivalric intention to fight for the cause they felt right. Their sympathies all went with the South, and their blood leaped to help her in this her hour of sore trial.

    Was it strange that the generous Virginian should have opened his arms to give these men the embrace of fellowship and brotherhood; that they should have been honored guests at every hospitable board; that bright eyes should have glanced brighter at a glimpse of the orange and blue? [97]

    Much has been said and much written of the Marylanders in the South; of their demoralized condition, their speculative tendencies, and their wild dissipations. Not a few of them came for plundersome left their country for their country's good:--but in the veins of such only a muddy current ran! Where the Maryland gentleman was found on the stranger soil, it was musket in hand, battling for it; and so well was his devoir done, that he rapidly changed the bayonet for the sword; and more than one general, whose name will live in the South, came from their number.

    Almost all the soldiery wore the broad, soft slouch, in place of the more military, but less comfortable, kepi. There was something about it characteristic of the race — it seemed to suit exactly the free, careless port of the men-and it was equally useful as a protection from the fierce June sun, or beating rain, and as a night-cap.

    Arms, too, were as varied as the uniforms. Many whole regiments were armed with the Belgian or Springfield musket-light, and carrying a large ball an immense distance; others had only the Mississippi rifle; while some again sported a mixture of rifles, muskets and shot-guns. The greatest variety was in the cavalry — if such it could be called. Men accustomed from infancy to the saddle and the rifle had seized whatever weapon they were possessed of; and more at home on horseback than on foot, they were, no doubt, ugly enemies in a bush fight, or an ambuscade. Many whole companies had no sabers but those their officers carried, and the very individuality and self-reliance of the men acted as an invincible opponent to drill and discipline. Mounted on horses of all sizes and colors; equipped with all varieties of trappings; and carrying slung at their backs every known game-killer — from rifle to duck gun — they would have been a strange picture to the European officer to which their splendid horsemanship and lithe, agile figures could have added no varnish to make him believe them cavalry.

    But every man you met, mounted or footman, carried in his belt the broad, straight, double-edged bowie-knife, useful alike for warlike, or culinary purposes; and few, indeed, did not balance it with the revolver. In some of the crack corps this was strictly prohibited ; for the difficulty has ever been in armies to teach the men to use efficiently the one weapon belonging to them; and that there is no safety in a multitude. [98]

    Long before the first scene of the bloody drama was done-and stern realities had taken the gilt from the pomp and circumstance of war — the actors had cast aside all the “properties” they did not absolutely need. The exhaustion of their first few battles, or a couple of Jackson's marches, taught them that in this race for life and limb, there was no need to carry extra weight. I constantly had brought to mind the anecdote of the Crimean Zouaves, about to charge a redan, who answered their officer's query as to the number of cartridges they had by tapping their saber bayonets.

    The arriving regiments were inspected, mustered into the Confederate service and drilled by competent officers; vacancies were filled; and such wanting equipments, as could be supplied, bestowed upon them. They were then brigaded, and after time enough to become accustomed to their commanders and to each other, were forwarded to points where, at the moment, troops appeared most needed.

    The three points in Virginia, considered as vital, were the Peninsula, formed by the James and York rivers, Norfolk, and the open country around and about Orange Courthouse to the Potomac. Fortress Monroe impregnable to assault, by the land side, and so easily provisioned and garrisoned by sea, was looked upon as the most dangerous neighbor. From its walls, the legions of the North might, at any moment, swoop down upon the unprotected country around it and establish a foothold, from which it would be hard to dislodge them, as at Newport's News. Its propinquity to Norfolk, together with the vast preponderance of the United States in naval power, made an attack upon that place the most reasonable supposition. The State of Virginia had already put it in as good defense as the time permitted. General Huger, a distinguished officer of Ordnance from the U. S. service, had at once been sent there; and his preparations had been such that an unfinished earth work, at Sewell's Point, stood for four hours, on the 19th of May, the bombardment of the U. S. ships “Minnesota” and “Monticello.”

    The Confederate War Department felt such confidence in the engineering and administrative ability of General Huger, that it endorsed the action of Virginia by giving him a brigadier's commission and instructions to put Norfolk and the avenues of its approach in complete state of defense. A sufficient garrison of picked troops-among them the Third Alabama and some of the best Richmond companies-was given him; and Norfolk was soon declared securely fortified. [99]

    The Peninsula was even more exposed to land attack from Fortress Monroe; and General John B. Magruder had been sent there with a part of the Virginia army, with headquarters at Yorktown. General Magruder had long been a well-known officer of the U. S. Army, where his personal popularity and a certain magnificence of manner had gained him the sobriquet of “Prince John.” He possessed energy and dash in no mean degree; and on arriving at his sphere of duty, strained every nerve to put the Peninsula in a state of defense. His work, too, was approved by the Confederate War Department; the commission of brigadier conferred upon him, and re-enforcements --sufficient in its judgment, though not in his — were sent at once to his command.

    While Fortress Monroe threatened the safety of Norfolk, and, by the Peninsula of the lower approaches to Richmond, Alexandria could hold a formidable army, ready at any moment to swoop down by the upper and more accessible approaches around Orange Courthouse. The occupation of Alexandria by the Union forces on the 24th of May was looked upon by Confederate leaders as the most decided act of war yet ventured upon by their wary adversary. Whatever may have been done within the non-seceded states, the South deluded herself that it was simply an exposition of the power of the government — a sort of Chinese warfare of gongs and tom-toms. The passage of the Potomac and seizure of a city under the aegis of the Confederate Government was actually crossing the Rubicon and carrying the war directly into the southern territory. Fortress Monroe and other fortified points still held by the United States, in the South, were conceded to be in a measure hers, at least by the right of possession; but Alexandria was considered part and parcel of the Confederacy, and as such sacred from invasion. Hence no means were taken to prevent its occupation. On Virginia soil-many of its' citizens already in the rebel ranks, and its houses a rendezvous for the cavalry of the Virginia army, its seizure was construed to mean real invasion.

    The possession of this key to the land approaches of Richmond; its great facilities of re-enforcement and supply by propinquity to the depots at Washington and elsewhere; and the determined intention of the Federals to hold and use it, could not be misunderstood.

    And while the Southern Government felt the advantages its possession [100] gave the Union troops for concentrating and advancing, the people were aroused to a pitch of high indignation by the choice of the troops sent to first invade their soil.

    The war, too, was yet young enough to leave all the romance about it; scenes of violence were as yet rare; and the death of Jackson, with the circumstances attending it, caused a deep and general feeling of bitterness. While the southern public opened its arms and took to its sympathy and protection the widow and orphans of the first Virginian whose blood was shed in her cause, many and bitter were the vows made around the bivouac to avenge his untimely end. The men who made the grim vow were of the stuff to keep it; the name of “Jackson, the Martyr,” became a war-cry, and the bloody tracks of Manassas

    How that oath was kept can tell!

    On the 23d of May, Joseph E. Johnston received his commission as General in the Regular Army, and went to Harper's Ferry in command of all troops in that region-known as the Army of the Shenandoah. Beauregard, with the same grade, was recalled on his way to the West, and sent to command at Manassas.

    From the great ease of putting troops across the fords of the Potomac into Virginia, it was considered necessary to concentrate, at points from which they could be easily shifted, a sufficient reliable force to meet any such movement; and the two officers in whom the government had greatest confidence as tacticians, were sent to watch for and checkmate it.

    Meanwhile, Missouri had risen, the governor had declared the rights of the State infringed; and the movements of Generals Lyon and Blair-culminating in the St. Louis riots between the citizens and the Dutch soldiery-had put an end to all semblance of neutrality. Governor Jackson moved the state archives, and transferred the capital from Jefferson City to Boonesville. On the 13th of June he issued a proclamation calling for fifty thousand volunteers to defend the State of Missouri from Federal invasion; and appointed Sterling Price a major-general, with nine brigadiers, among whom were Jeff Thompson, Clark and Parsons. Perhaps no state went into open resistance of the United States authority as unprepared in every way as. Missouri. Her population was scattered; one-half Union, and utterly ignorant of drill, discipline, or any of the arts of war. They were, [101] besides, perfectly unarmed, except with their hunting pieces, and the state Capital, the arsenals and all the larger towns were in possession of the Union troops. These laughed at the attempt of Missouri to shake off the grasp of the government, and their generals boldly proclaimed that “she was under the paws of the lion, and her first movement would cause them to close and crush her life out.”

    Still, Price, seconded by his brigadiers, went to work with great activity to collect their scattered adherents and put them into form. In a country held by superior forces, with communications cut up and no means of information, the task was Herculean, indeed. Yet they endeavored by zeal and energy to make amends for these deficiencies and for the want of supplies. Price's name was a tower of strength in itself; his hardy compatriots flocked around him, and nearly every day there were collisions between them and the United States troops. These skirmishes, though unimportant in themselves, gave the new soldiers lessons in war; and not infrequently added to their scanty stock of arms and equipments. They were but the first dashes in the grand tableaux of war that Price was yet to hew, with the bold hand of a master, from the crude mass of material alone in his power to use.

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