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Iii.--characteristics of General Wise.

by J. H. L.
Governor Henry A. Wise was one of the most gifted men it has been my fortune to know. His eloquence produced a greater effect upon a popular assembly than that of any one I ever heard; he would dazzle, surprise, and shock with electric touches of sentiment, wit, and pathos. Though brave, vigilant, and fertile in resource, his military career was by no means a success. Floyd and himself quarreled in West Virginia, and his relations had not been pleasant with any commanding officer. When General Wise was in command of the James River defenses opposite Drewry's Bluff, I visited him on official business. He received me most cordially, walked with me all the morning round his lines, explaining his views most eloquently, quoting from the great masters in the art of war,--with whom he seemed to be perfectly familiar,--interspersing these learned and scientific disquisitions with the most scathing criticisms on men and measures, denouncing the Confederate Executive and Congress and the narrow curriculum of West Point, but winding up always with a stream of fiery invective against the Yankees. General Wise was camped on the plantation of one of the richest and most influential citizens of Richmond. He annoyed Wise greatly with complaints of depredations committed by the Wise Legion on his property. Wise was greatly enraged when he presumed to charge some of his men with stealing, and after a fierce altercation ordered him out of his tent. As the gentleman was mounting his horse Wise came out, and, calling him by name, said: “Sir, before you leave, I think it due both to you and myself to make you an apology.” “I'm glad, General Wise, that you show some sense of what is becoming to us both.” “My apology,” replied General Wise, “is that, having on my slippers, I could not possibly do you justice: I ought to have kicked you out of my tent, and will do so now if you will wait till I pull on my boots!” Then he poured a broadside upon his retreating enemy.

A few days after this Wise said: “General Lee came down to see me; fortunately, my wife and several other ladies were spending the day at my headquarters. We had a good dinner and a charming time. You know ‘Marse Bob’ was always very fond of ladies' society, and when he asked me to take a walk with him, I suspected what was coming. After telling me of the complaints made of my treatment of the Richmond man, and hearing my account of the affair, not omitting the apology and broadside, he laid his hand upon my arm, and, with that grace and cordiality which at such times tempered his usual stately dignity, said: ‘Wise, you know, as well as I do, what the army regulations say about profanity; but, as an old friend, let me ask you if that dreadful habit cannot be broken — and remind you that we have both already passed the meridian of life,’ etc. Seeing he was in for a [277] sermon, and one that I could not answer, I replied: ‘General Lee, you certainly play Washington to perfection, and your whole life is a constant reproach to me. Now I am perfectly willing that Jackson and yourself shall do the praying for the whole army of Northern Virginia; but, in Heaven's name, let me do the cussin‘ for one small brigade.’ Lee laughed and said, ‘Wise, you are incorrigible,’ and then rejoined the ladies.”

Apropos of this a friend told me that, stopping at a farmer's in Appomattox after the surrender, he found the old man deriving comfort from but one thing, of which he frequently spoke: “Any-how, Gineral Wise cussed the Yankees to the last.”

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