Chapter 14: from the Rappahannock to the Potomac
- The engineer troops -- Jubal Early -- his ability and devotion -- his caustic tongue -- Lee a master of the “offensive defensive” -- his Army organized into three corps -- he turns Northward and maneuvers Hooker out of his position on the Rappahannock -- the battle of Winchester -- fine work -- large captures -- scenes and incidents of the battle.
It is singular that I cannot recall with distinctness anything that occurred during this visit to Richmond, save the burial of poor Beers; and as to that I remember only what I have related. I do not recall much enthusiasm or elation of spirit about my promotion; indeed I felt little, for it severed the strong ties that bound me to my old comrades; it removed me from a branch of the service which I loved and in which I felt competent to do efficient work, and transferred me to another for. which I possessed neither taste nor training. My orders were to report to Major-General Early, in the field, and in connection with the other officers of my company to organize a company of engineer troops from men to be furnished us from his division. I do not remember where General Early was, but somewhere in the northern or central portion of the State, and I reported promptly at his headquarters, meeting there for the first time Captain Williamson, the commanding officer of our prospective company, who proved to be a gentleman of character, a competent engineer and thorough. soldier, though, unfortunately, somewhat deaf. I do not think he heard all that was said by the general during our conference, or that he observed him quite as closely as I did. After the conference was over I saw Captain Williamson privately and asked him how much aid and co-operation he  expected from the general in getting up his company. He said he hardly knew, and asked my views, which were quite decided and decidedly expressed — to the effect that General Early had no idea of losing a musket from his division if he could avoid it; that he would aid us just so far as he was compelled to do so and no further; that our orders were somewhat defective, or at least not framed to meet such a case; that I did not mean to imply that the general was not right in the position he had taken, but that right or wrong he had clearly taken it; and as he was evidently a man of uncommon intelligence and determination, I felt satisfied he would carry his point. In the course of two or three days the situation became clearly defined, the general taking little or no pains to conceal it, and I had another talk with Captain Williamson, who felt that nothing more could be done just now in the way of organizing the company, adding that General Early had asked him, for the present, to act as engineer officer on his staff. He had made no such suggestion or request in my case, and Captain Williamson seemed to feel badly on my account; but I begged him to think no more about it, assuring him that I had sense enough to see that any such action in my case was out of the question, as I was not an engineer. I omitted to say that my orders entitled me to a horse to be furnished and fed, as I remember, by the quartermaster of the division, and the general was very kind and prompt in seeing that these requirements were complied with; but I saw clearly that I was neither needed nor desired on the division staff and that, if I remained, the best I could expect would be the position and duty of a sort of upper courier, which I was not willing to assume. I therefore went directly to General Early and had a full talk with him. I did most of the talking, but he heartily acquiesced, and when I was through I felt sure we thoroughly understood each other, and I thought he liked me. I told him I saw clearly that, for the present, no company of engineer troops was to be organized from his division; that indeed I rather thought the division pioneer corps, under command of Lieutenant, or Sergeant, Flood, was all  the engineer company he cared to have. Flood was a New Orleans stevedore, a rough but very efficient man, who, among his many admirable qualifications, possessed this highly acceptable one, that he had no sort of objection to Old Jube's airing his choice vocabulary of profane rhetoric about him, or his work, or his men whenever he might happen to need relief in that direction. I said further to the general that I thought the pioneer corps might perhaps be regarded as the nucleus of the future company of engineer troops, and while I had no idea of meddling with Flood's work, which he was vastly better qualified to manage than I was, yet I could help him about his requisitions, reports, etc.; but that as we were evidently going into an active and aggressive campaign I thought I would, in action, fight in some battery of Col. Hilary Jones' Battalion, if he thought he could make use of me-standing ready, however, at all times to report back to Division Headquarters for staff duty or for anything I could at any time do for the general. This arrangement seemed to be entirely satisfactory to General Early, as it was also to Colonel Jones, in one or other of whose batteries-usually with the Charlottesville Artillery, a corps that reminded me somewhat of our old battery — I fought, whenever they were engaged, throughout the campaign, notably at Winchester and Gettysburg; sometimes in charge of one or more pieces, and again fighting as a private soldier at a gun, or in any position where they were weakest and most needed help. I said the arrangement seemed to be entirely satisfactory to General Early, and yet in connection with it there occurred a series of awkward and amusing incidents which admirably illustrate some of the general's strongly-marked traits. Soon after Gettysburg my brother and I passed and missed each other, I riding over to the First Corps to learn what had befallen my friends of the old battery, while he came over to Early's division of the Second to inquire for me. His description of the old general was so characteristic and vivid that to this day I am prone to imagine that I saw and heard instead of my brother. He said the sun was shining  after the rain, and at Early's headquarters he saw a man rather above middle age, heavily built, with stooping shoulders, a splendid head and a full gray-brown beard, sitting in his shirt sleeyes on a camp stool, with one leg thrown over the other, his hands and apparently his every thought employed in combing out and smoothing a somewhat bedraggled black ostrich feather. My brother had no idea who this figure was, but he passed beyond him to inquire of some less absorbed person as to my welfare and whereabouts. The person addressed, probably some courier, did not happen to know anything of me, and the feather dresser piped in a whining, querulous voice:
Who are you looking for-Stiles? I can't tell you where he is, but I can tell you where he ain't. He ain't with the division pioneer corps, where he belongs; I reckon your best chance to find him would be lying around with some battery.When my brother told me this, as he did when we next met, I was at once irritated and amused. It was after I had, with General Early's approval, gone back to the old battalion to serve as its adjutant, under Colonel Cabell. I did not happen to meet the general for some time, and meanwhile fortune had smiled upon me in many ways. I was located to my entire satisfaction, had a fine horse, was better dressed and equipped every way, and was feeling generally satisfied, independent, and happy. We had gotten back to the sacred soil of Old Virginia, and, under Clark's Mountain, riding alone, I overtook and passed the general accompanied by only a single courier. My horse had the better action and movement, and I merely saluted as I rode rapidly by. I had gotten perhaps a hundred yards or more ahead, when the general called after me:
Hold on, Stiles;and as he drew near, “you're a little offish this morning.” “No, General, I think not.” “Well, what the devil's the matter?” “Nothing in the world, sir, except that I didn't suppose you'd care for the company of a man of whom the best you could say was that you felt sure he wasn't where he ought to be.”  Old Jube cocked his head and cut his eyes around at me with an expression of the intensest enjoyment, and in that inimitable voice drawled out:
Stiles, you are an infernal fool. Why, man, I meant what I said of you as a compliment. The main use I had for a pioneer corps was to bury dead Yankees and horses, and you never seemed to fancy that kind of business. You preferred to take a hand at the guns and prepare 'em to be buried, and I thought a damned sight more of you for it.It is useless to say that this sledge-hammer stroke broke the ice; indeed the ice disappeared and I was thawed out completely. From that day the grand old fellow was one of the best friends I had in the army, and our friendship continued to the day of his death. I don't know that I was ever more touched than when-long years afterwards, at one of the meetings of the “Virginia Division of the Army of Northern Virginia,” in introducing me as one of the speakers-he told this story, making use of the identical phraseology above recorded, as nearly as I can recall it. It may be well to say that a full regiment of engineer troops was ultimately organized, though the men were not drawn from the troops in the field, as at first provided-General Lee agreeing with his division generals that this should not be done. The corps rendered very efficient service. It was under the command of Col. T. M. R. Talcott, a member of General Lee's staff, and a thoroughly educated, experienced, and able engineer, in whom the general felt as much confidence as in any officer of his rank in the army. Strange to say, I never served a day with the regiment, though holding a commission in it, and I had the honor of being, for a year or more, a bone of contention between the engineer troops and the artillery. Colonel Talcott would every now and then report my absence from duty and ask that I be ordered back to my post with his regiment, and this application being referred to Colonel Cabell, he would answer that it would be highly detrimental to the service to remove me, just at this time, from my position as acting adjutant of his battalion. As these papers had to pass through army headquarters, and in some instances even to  and from the Adjutant-General's Office in Richmond, months would sometimes elapse before the grand rounds were completed. One feature of the case very aggravating to the officers of the engineer troops was that on one occasion, I presume through inadvertence, I was actually advanced one grade in engineer troops for meritorious service in artillery. At last, however, I was again promoted, this time in artillery, which terminated the irritating, yet amusing, paper war. Some time after the close of the struggle, at a social gathering in Richmond, I observed a gentleman staring and pointing at me in a very peculiar manner, who, on being introduced, grasped my hand and burst into an uncontrollable fir of laughter. Upon recovering his composure he said that if our meeting had occurred a few years earlier his feeling, and possibly his action, might have been different; that he was one of the officers of the engineer regiment over whose heads I had unceremoniously and irregularly vaulted, they having served faithfully with the regiment and I having never even reported to it. He further said that my name had been repeatedly read out at dress parade of the regiment as “absent from duty,” when the officers would speculate as to how soon I would be lassooed and dragged in; but as the capture was constantly delayed and I ultimately made good my escape, my fellow-officers in engineer troops had changed their minds about me and concluded I was a strategist of a high order and deserving of high position and command. I may add that my personal relations with Colonel Talcott since the war have been of a close and intimate character, and that he is to-day one of my best friends. After the death of Jackson, Early was undoubtedly one of the strongest and ablest of Lee's lieutenants. He was not perhaps the brilliant and dashing soldier that A. P. Hill was, nor a superb, magnetic leader like Gordon, and possibly he could not deliver quite as majestic a blow in actual battle as Longstreet; but his loyal devotion, his hardy courage, his native intellect, his mental training, his sagacity, his resource, his self-reliant, self-directing strength, were all very  great, and the commanding general reposed the utmost confidence in him. This he indicated by selecting him so frequently for independent command, and to fill the most critical, difficult, and I had almost said hopeless, positions, in the execution of his own great plans; as for example, when he left him at Fredericksburg with nine thousand men to neutralize Sedgwick with thirty thousand. Later, he sent him to the Valley, with a very inadequate force, to occupy and embarrass the enemy and to prevent overwhelming concentration against the Confederate capital, where his operations indicated the highest ability. Early was in some respects a bundle of inconsistencies and contradictions; of religion and irreligion, of reverence and profanity. I have heard my father speak of the General's deep interest in religious work among the men of his division, and his readiness to do everything in his power to facilitate it. I do not think I ever knew one human soul to look up to another with a feeling nearer akin to worship than that with which Early regarded Lee and Jackson, not alone as great soldiers, but as great Christians also; and yet he was the only man who was ever known to swear in General Lee's presence. The general used to reprove him gently, yet at the same time to express his special affection for him, by calling him “My bad old man.” Old Jube struck the popular fancy in two respects onlyhis intense unionism before President Lincoln's proclamation calling for troops and his intense Southernism afterwards, and his caustic, biting tongue. He was a sort of privileged character in the army and was saucy to everybody, but many of his brightest utterances will not bear publication because of the sting in them. One of this general character, which, however, had no real bitterness in it, is too good not to be told. The Hon. Jere Morton was in the Secession Convention with Early, as extreme a Secessionist as Early was Unionist, and very fond of talking about “our rights in the territories.” Morton was not in the army, and was probably above fighting age. His handsome estate, “Morton Hall,” was upon the outskirts of the great battle-fields of Central Virginia,  and on one occasion Mr. Morton narrowly escaped capture there, and was obliged to mount a horse and fly. It so happened that Early commanded the vanguard of the Confederate forces advancing to meet the enemy. Riding at the head of his column, and seeing Morton coming in hot haste, digging his spurs into his horse's flanks, Early playfully threw a line of troops across the road to intercept his progress, at the same time calling out to him, “Hold on, Morton! Are you going for our rights in the Territories?” One evening, during General Jackson's life-time, after a hard day's march, General Early received, soon after coming to camp, substantially the following note:
To which Old Jube promptly dictated and sent the following reply:
There was not another officer in the Army of Northern Virginia who would have dared to send such an impertinent note to Jackson, nor another, save Stuart, whose impertinence in sending it would have been met with a laugh. After the war, its memories were Early's religion; his mission, to vindicate the truth of history with regard to it. So long as the old hero was alive in his hill city of Virginia,  no man ever took up his pen to write a line about the great conflict without the fear of Jubal Early before his eyes. As already stated, it is not within the scope of this book to discuss the causes or the objects of the war, or who was responsible for it; therefore, when I say that upon the side of the Confederates it was a war of defense I am enunciating a military and not a moral proposition. I mean simply that the Confederacy had not the requisite resources, that its leaders had no purpose or expectation of carrying on a war of aggression or conquest, and that our invasions of Northern soil were intended merely as subsidiary parts of our general scheme of defense; that is, as diversions, as derangements of the general scheme of Federal invasion. General Lee was a soldier who thoroughly appreciated the value of an offensive defensive. He never allowed his adversary quietly to mature and uninterruptedly to adhere to and carry out his own plan of campaign. Although conducting a defensive struggle, he was yet generally the attacking party. It was so in the Seven Days battles with Mc-Clellan, so in the Manassas campaign with Pope and the Maryland campaign that followed. It was so at Chancellorsville. And even in 1864, after the resources and fighting strength of the Confederacy had been so fearfully reduced, when Grant entered the Wilderness, Lee immediately pressed in after him and closed with him in a death grapple in the very heart of the jungle. But perhaps the most perfect instance and illustration of this characteristic feature of Lee's strategy and tactics, and of the real significance of his two invasions of Northern territory, is what occurred after Chancellorsville. When Hooker retired across the Rappahannock and reoccupied his former position it would manifestly have been little short of madness for Lee to attack him there, especially deprived as he was of Jackson, his offensive right arm; yet he did not sit down, as a less courageous and resourceful leader would have done, gloating over his victory, conceding the initiative to Hooker, and awaiting developments. On the contrary, he proceeded to maneuver his adversary out of a position from which he could not drive him, and to force him to  abandon all idea of further aggressive campaign in Virginia for that year. Early in June, with his army reorganized into three corps, the First under Longstreet, embracing the divisions of Mc-Laws, Picket, and Hood; the Second under Ewell, embracing Early, Rodes, and Jackson; and the Third under A. P. Hill, Anderson, Heth, and Pender,--all the corps commanders being lieutenant-generals,--Lee drew away from the line of the Rappahannock, leaving Hill, however, for a short time, to watch Hooker, proceeded northward, by way of Culpeper and the Valley of Virginia,--the Second Corps in advance,--crossed the Shenandoah near Front Royal about June 12th, and, near Winchester, routed and captured a large part of the force which, under Milroy, was holding the Lower Valley. Hill followed Ewell, Longstreet's corps hovering yet a while east of the mountains, to cover their operations. It was about this time that President Lincoln and General Hooker had their famous serpentine telegraphic correspondence:
Where is the Rebel army?“The advance is at the fords of the Potomac and the rear at Culpeper Court House.” “If the head of the animal is at the fords of the Potomac and the tail at Culpeper Court House, it must be very thin somewhere. Why don't you strike it?” This battle of Winchester--there were many conflicts in and around that devoted old town — was one of the most perfect pieces of work the Army of Northern Virginia ever did. Possibly the plan seemed so admirably clear and definite and to move with the precision and decision of a problem in mathematics, because, for the first time, as a mounted officer and in an unusually free and independent position, I personally watched every movement. I may add that the execution of the plan was committed largely to “Old Jube,” who certainly wrought it out and fought it out beautifully. The town of Winchester and the surrounding country were dominated by a strong closed earthwork, heavily armed and manned, which it would have been madness to assault,  yet folly to neglect; and this work, on the only side which seemed to offer anything like a practicable approach, was protected and itself dominated by an outwork which it was absolutely necessary to carry before the inner and more powerful work could be reduced. Our scouts and engineers had done their work thoroughly and our column was conducted by a long detour, in every foot of which we were concealed from observation from either work by forests and the configuration of the ground; until at last we found ourselves in a position which had been attained with difficulty, but which perfectly commanded the outwork. The infantry now lay down to rest and recover breath, while the men of Hilary Jones' battalion of artillery shoved their guns forward by hand up to and just back of a rock fence which ran along the crest of a ridge, under cover of which we had approached, and then loaded them. They next removed a few of the stones in front of the muzzle of each gun, taking great care to remain concealed while doing this; and when everything was ready and everyone warned to do his part on the instant, the guns were discharged simultaneously upon the outwork and a rapid fire kept up upon it, while the infantry rose, and, with the wild rebel yell bursting from their lips, rushed forward in the charge. The surprise was complete, the distance not great, and the effect overwhelming. The outwork was abandoned almost without a struggle, its defenders retiring to the main fortification, and our infantry again lying down for rest and protection and to wait for us, while our guns galloped forward to the captured work, some occupying and firing from it, and others passing to the right and front to a level field hard by, from which we had the main work beautifully in range. But this work had us in range not less beautifully, indeed even more perfectly, and played havoc with us for a short time. My recollection is that I was acting as No. 6 at one of the limbers, and that I several times instinctively clapped down the lid of the ammunition chest as the shell seemed to burst immediately over it. We were at a loss to account for the preternaturally accurate aim of the guns and cutting of the fuses, until someone chanced to observe the practice  target of the fort standing between the gun at which I was serving and the one next to it, when, of course, we shifted our position in a twinkling, dashing up still closer to the fort and finding, to our relief, that here the shells passed for the most part over our heads. On one of the two occasions in which our guns passed to the right and front of the recumbent infantry I observed our old friend Extra Billy Smith, on the front line of his brigade, standing erect, with his arms folded, his horse's bridle rein over one shoulder and his blue cotton umbrella under the other, he and his horse the only two figures I saw standing in all the long line. The heroic old man was as cool as a cucumber and as smiling as a basket of chips, and he was actually bowing to the artillerymen — as with hair flying and eyes flashing they passed on a run — with that same manly, hearty greeting which had, for more than a generation, proved irresistible on the hustings in the Old Dominion. It was an unparalleled scene-unparalleled as an exhibition of courage, of personal force, and of the force of habit. I noted the expression on the face of each artilleryman as he recognized and responded to the old Governor's salute, and felt-there's one vote sure for Extra Billy as long as that gallant cannoneer lives. The old hero was at this time Governor-elect of the Commonwealth of Virginia. I cannot determine exactly when, but I received a very singular, and what threatened to be a very serious, injury during one of the moves our guns made after becoming engaged — I rather incline to think it must have been the first time we shifted position. At all events, I had, for some reason, given up my horse to someone and was fighting on foot in some position with one of the guns of the Charlottesville battery, when the orders were given, “Cease firing, limber to the front, cannoneers mount!” I sprang upon a limber chest upon which there were already the full complement of three men, all faced, of course, to the front. I faced to the rear, and bracing my back against the back of the middle man, attempted to hold my position with my feet resting on the “lunette plate” --a flat piece of iron fitted over the end of the trail of the gun, ending in a heavy ring, which  was slipped over the “pintle hook” on the front axle, thus coupling the gun to the limber. We started at a run and were galloping under fire through a grove, by a wood road the track of which was full of limestone rocks projecting more or less above the ground. It was very difficult to keep my footing, as I had on a pair of stiff and slick-soled English shoes, the nails in which had worn perfectly smooth. Suddenly, at full run, we struWk a large rock. The jar was terrific, and all the men were thrown off, but the others, having firm footing, described arcs which landed them on the turf at the side of the road. My feet, however, slipped, and I went down between the front and rear wheels and directly under the gun. The concussion was so tremendous that I supposed the limber chest had exploded, and distinctly remember thinking to myself, “Then this is the way it feels to be blown up, is it? Well, I'll try anyhow to save my arms and legs in case I shouldn't be killed,” and with a violent effort I did manage to get them out of the track of the hind wheels, one of which, however, ran directly, or rather, diagonally, across the small of my back on a flat limestone rock. My comrades picked themselves up, all right though slightly shocked. They thought me dead, but dragged me out of the track of the other guns, and left me lying on the grass under a tree. In a short time I came to myself, and, on taking a hurried inventory, found that though very badly jarred and bruised, yet no bones seemed to be broken, and concluded I would try to hobble on into the fight, which I did, lying down that night in a pouring rain and sleeping in a puddle — I presume about as good treatment as could have been prescribed. Next day I was carried into Winchester, and after two or three days rest rode on after the army. The mark of the gun wheel remained on my back for a year or more, but I never experienced any serious pain or inconvenience from the injury. I attribute my escape, in part at least, to my unusually full muscular development at the time. Upon one of our shiftings of position in the battle I was on foot, abreast of one of the guns of the Charlottesville battery, and following close after John Hunter, sergeant of  that piece, who was riding his little chestnut mare, “Madge,” when a thirty-pounder Parrott shell passed through her body, just back of the legs of the rider, exploding as it emerged, and spattering me profusely with the blood of the poor animal. Little Madge was not even jarred-any experienced artillerist will understand this. She “never knew what hit her,” but sank gently down; while Hunter did not get even so much as a decent “shaking up,” not a very easy thing to administer to him, I frankly admit. When his feet touched the ground — they were not far from it even while Madge stood up on all fours-he simply disengaged them from the stirrups, turned around, glanced a moment at the bloody horror, and said: “Well, poor little Madge!” True, there was nothing more to be said, but all the same there was not another man of my acquaintance who would not have said more. The sergeant still lives. His yea is still yea and his nay, nay. He is a shining example of that admirable class of men and philosophers who never say anything superfluous or give strained or exaggerated expression to anything; yet his heart, as everyone knows, is not only in the right place, but the very rightest kind of a heart. He is one of my best friends and the husband of one of Billy's “seven women.” During our next change of position, or it may have been during the same move, I witnessed a scene of horror and of agony so extreme that I would not describe it were it not that a knowledge of the widest swings of the pendulum of war, through the entire orbit of human experiences and emotions, is needed for adequate appreciation of the life of the soldier. The entire battalion, Hilary Jones', was moving in column, the Charlottesville battery, in which I was serving, following immediately after Garber's. The farm road we were using led between two heavy old-fashioned gate posts. My recollection is that they were of stone and that there was no gate and no fence on either side of the posts, but the ground outside of and near the posts was somewhat rough and steep. One of Garber's men, belonging to his rear gun, attempted to run abreast of the piece between the  gate posts, presumably to avoid the rough ground outside. There was not room enough for him to pass, and the wheel crowding him against the post, the washer hook caught and tore open his abdomen, dragging the poor wretch along by his intestines, which were literally pulled from his body in a long, gory ribbon. At one of the last positions we took in the fight — it may have been the very last — there passed before me one of those scenes which give a flash-light revelation of the incomparable greatness of war and the sublime self-abnegation of the true soldier. The fire of the Federal guns was very deadly and demoralizing, and the captain of the battery next on our right, I think the Louisiana Guard Artillery, came up the hill between his battery and ours to steady his men. He was a fine horseman, finely mounted, and might well have served as a model for an equestrian statue as he rode out between the smoking muzzles, and, rising in his stirrups, cheered on his gunners. At that moment a shell tore away his bridle arm high up near the shoulder. Instantly he caught the reins with his right hand and swung his horse's head sharply to the left, thus concealing his wounded side from his men, saying as he did so, “Keep it up, boys; I'll be back in a moment!” As he started down the hill I saw him reel in the saddle, and even before he reached the limbers the noble fellow fell from his horse-dead. We were actively engaged, as I remember, until almost or quite dark; but as soon as the fire slackened I lay down, very sore from the severe bruising and crushing I had received, and of course in no condition for close or accurate observation, so I do not know when it was discovered that the garrison were abandoning the fort and preparing to retreat, or what steps were taken to intercept them. They were intercepted, however; our operations resulting, as General Lee reported, “in the expulsion of the enemy from the Valley, the capture of four thousand prisoners, with a corresponding number of small arms; twenty-eight pieces of superior artillery, including those taken by General Rodes and General Hayes; about three hundred wagons and as many horses, together with a quantity of ordnance, commissary, and quartermaster's stores.”  The remnant of Milroy's forces took refuge behind the fortifications of Harper's Ferry; but as the reduction of that place had proved a very disturbing element in General Lee's plans for the Maryland campaign of the preceding year, we gave it the go-by this time; Lieutenant-General Ewell with his three divisions, still in the van, crossing the Potomac in the latter part of June, rapidly traversing Maryland and advancing into Pennsylvania.