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Detailed Minutia of soldier life.

By Private Carlton McCarthy.

Paper no. 6--“brave survivors” Homeward bound.

[This is the last of a series of papers which have been widely read and complimented for their vivid pictures of the life of the private soldier.]

Bitter grief for the past, which seemed to be forever lost, and present humiliation could not long suppress the anxious thought and question, “What now?” The discussion of the question brought relief from the horrid feeling of vacuity, which oppressed the soldier, and introduced him to the new sensations of liberty of choice, freedom of action — full responsibility. For capital he had a clear conscience, a brave heart, health, strength, and a good record. With these he sought his home.

Early in the morning of Wednesday the 12th of April, without the stirring drum or the bugle call of old, the camp awoke to the new life. Whether or not they had a country these soldiers did not know. Home to many, when they reached it, was graves and ashes. At any rate there must be, somewhere on earth, a better place than a muddy, smoky camp in a piece of scrubby pines — better company than gloomy, hungry comrades and inquisitive enemies, and something in the future more exciting, if not more hopeful, than nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep, nothing to do and nowhere to go. The disposition to start was apparent, and the preparations were promptly begun.

To roll up the old blanket and oilcloth, gather up the haversack, canteen, axe, perhaps, and a few trifles, in time of peace of no value, [177] eat the fragments that remained and light a pipe, was the work of a few moments. This slight employment, coupled with pleasant anticipations of the unknown, and therefore possibly enjoyable future, served to restore somewhat the usual light-hearted manner of soldiers and relieve the final farewells of much of their sadness. There was even a smack of hope and cheerfulness as the little groups sallied out into the world to combat they scarcely knew what. As we cannot follow all these groups, we will join ourselves to one and see them home.

Two “brothers-in-arms,” whose objective point is Richmond, take the road on foot. They have nothing to eat and no money. They are bound for their home in a city, which, when they last heard from it, was in flames. What they will see when they arrive there they cannot imagine; but the instinctive love of home urges them. They walk on steadily and rapidly and are not diverted by surroundings. It does not even occur to them that their situation, surrounded on all sides by armed enemies and walking a road crowded with them, is at all novel. They are suddenly roused to a sense of their situation by a sharp--“Halt! Show your parole!” They had struck the cordon of picket posts which surrounded the surrendered army. It was the first exercise of authority by the Federal army. A sergeant, accompanied by a couple of muskets, stepped into the road, with a modest air examined the paroles and said quietly, “Pass on.”

The strictly military part of the operation being over, the social commenced. As the two “survivors” moved on they were followed by numerous remarks, such as “Hello! Johnny, I say! Going home?” “Ain't you glad!” They made no reply, these wayfarers, but they thought some very emphatic remarks.

From this point “on to Richmond!” was the grand thought. Steady work it was. The road, strangely enough considering the proximity of two armies, was quite lonesome, and not an incident of interest occurred during the day. Darkness found the two comrades still pushing on.

Some time after dark a light was seen a short distance ahead and there was a “sound of revelry.” On approaching, the light was found to proceed from a large fire, built on the floor of an old and dilapidated outhouse, and surrounded by a ragged, hungry, singing and jolly crowd of paroled prisoners of the Army of Northern Virginia, who had gotten possession of a quantity of corn meal and were waiting for the ashcakes then in the ashes. Being liberal, [178] they offered the new comers some of their bread. Being hungry, they accepted and eat their first meal that day. Here seemed a good place to spend the night, but the party in possession were so noisy and finally so quarrelsome and disagreeable generally, that the “survivors,” after a short rest, pushed on in the darkness, determined, if possible, to find some shelter more quiet. The result was a night march, which was continued till the morning dawned.

Thursday morning they entered the village of Buckingham Courthouse, and traded a small pocket-mirror for a substantial breakfast. There was quite a crowd of soldiers gathered around a cellar door, trying to persuade an ex-Confederate A. A. A. Commissary of Subsistence that he might as well, in view of the fact that the army had surrendered, let them have some of his stores; and after considerable persuasion, and some threats, he forego the hope of keeping them for himself and told the men to help themselves. They-did so.

The people of the village did not exactly doubt the fact of the surrender, but evidently thought matters had been somewhat exaggerated, facts suppressed and everything allowed to fall into a very doubtful condition. Confederate money would not pass, however; that was settled beyond doubt.

As the two tramps were about to leave the village and were hurrying along the high road which led through it, they saw a solitary horseman approaching from their rear. It was easy to recognize at once General Lee. He rode slowly, calmly along. As he passed an old tavern on the roadside some ladies and children waved their handkerchiefs, smiled and wept. The General raised his eyes to the porch on which they stood, and slowly raising his hand to his hat, raised it slightly and as slowly again dropped his hand to his side. The “survivors” did not weep, but they had strange sensations. They passed on, steering, so to speak, for Cartersville and the ferry.

Before leaving the village it was the sad duty of the survivors to stop at the humble abode of Mrs. P., and tell her of the death of her husband, who fell mortally wounded, pierced by a musket ball near Sailor's creek. She was also told that a comrade who was by his side when he fell, but who was not able to stay with him, would come along soon and give her the particulars. That comrade came and repeated the story. In a few days the dead man reached home alive and scarcely hurt. He was originally an infantryman, recently transferred to artillery, and therefore wore a small knapsack as infantrymen did. The ball struck the knapsack with a “whack!” and knocked the man down. That was all. [179]

Some time during the night the travelers reached the ferry at Cartersville. Darkness and silence prevailed there. Loud and continued shouts brought no ferryman, and eager searchings revealed no boat. The depth of the water being a thing unknown and not easily found out, it was obviously prudent to camp for the night.

On the river's edge there was an old building, which seemed a brick one--one wall near the water's edge. A flight of steep, rough steps led to an open door on the second floor. Up these steps climbed the weary men. Inside there was absolute darkness, but the floor was dry and there was shelter from the wind. Feeling about on the floor they satisfied themselves of its cleanliness and dryness. The faithful old blankets were once more spread, their owners laid down and at once fell into a deep sleep which was not broken till morning. The room was surprisingly small. When the soldiers entered they had no idea of the size of it, and went to sleep with the impression that it was very large. The morning revealed its dimensions — about ten by twelve feet. The ferryman was early at his post and put the travelers across cheerfully without charge.

Soon after crossing, a good silver-plated tablespoon, bearing the monogram of one of the travelers, purchased from an aged colored woman a large chunk of ashcake and about half a gallon of buttermilk. This old darkey had lived in Richmond in her younger days. She spoke of grown men and women there as “children whar I raised.” “Lord! boss, does you know Miss Sadie? Well, I nussed her and I nussed all uv them chillun; that I did, sah! Yawl chillun does look hawngry, that you does. Well, you's welcome to them vittles, and I'm powful glad to git dis spoon! God bless you, honey!” A big log on the roadside furnished a seat for the comfortable consumption of the before-mentioned ashcake and milk. The feast was hardly begun when the tramp of a horse's hoofs were heard. Looking up, the survivors saw with surprise General Lee approaching. He was entirely alone, and rode slowly along. Unconscious that any one saw him, he was yet erect, dignified and apparently as calm and peaceful as the fields and woods around him. Having caught sight of the occupants of the log, he kept his eyes fixed on them, and as he passed, turned slightly, saluted and said, in the most gentle manner: “Good morning, gentlemen; taking your breakfast?” The soldiers had only time to rise, salute and say: “Yes, sir!” and he was gone. [180]

Having finished as far as they were able the abundant meal furnished by the liberality of the good “old mammy,” the travelers resume their journey greatly refreshed.

It seems that General Lee pursued the road which the “survivors” chose, and starting later than they, overtook them, he being mounted and they on foot. At any rate it was their good fortune to see him three times on the road from Appomattox to Richmond. The incidents introducing General Lee are peculiarly interesting, and while the writer is in doubt as to the day on which the next and last incident occurred, the reader may rest assured of the truthfulness of the narration as to what occurred and what was said and done.

After the feast of bread and milk, the no longer hungry men pressed on. About the time when men who have eaten a hearty breakfast become again hungry — as good fortune would have it happen — they reached a house pleasantly situated and a comfortable place withal. Approaching the house they were met by an exceedingly kind, energetic and hospitable woman. She promptly asked: “You are not deserters?” “No,” said the soldiers, “we have our paroles; we are from Richmond; we are homeward bound, and called to ask if you could spare us a dinner?” “Spare you a dinner? Certainly I can. My husband is a miller; his mill is right across the road there, down the hill, and I have been cooking all day for the poor, starving men. Take a seat on the porch there and I will get you something to eat.” By the time the travelers were seated, this admirable woman was in the kitchen at work. The “pat-a-pat, pat, pat, pat, pat-a-pat-a-pat” of the sifter, and the cracking and “fizzing” of the fat bacon as it fried, saluted their hungry ears, and the delicious smell tickled their olfactory nerves most delightfully. Sitting thus, entertained by delightful sounds, breathing the fragrant air and wrapped in meditation — or anticipation rather, the soldiers saw the dust rise in the air and heard the sound of an approaching party.

Several horsemen rode up to the road-gate, threw their bridles over the posts or tied to the overhanging boughs and dismounted. They were evidently officers, well dressed fine looking men, and about to enter the gate. Almost at once the men on the porch recognized General Lee and his son. They were accompanied by other officers. An ambulance had arrived at the gate also. Without delay they entered and approached the house, General Lee preceding the others. Satisfied that it was the General's intention [181] to enter the house, the two “brave survivors” instinctively and respectfully, venerating the approaching man, determined to give him and his companions the porch. As they were executing a rather rapid and undignified flank movement to gain the right and rear of the house, the voice of General Lee overhauled them thus: “Where are you men going?” “This lady has offered to give us a dinner, and we are waiting for it,” replied the soldiers. “Well you had better move on now — this gentleman will have quite a large party on him to-day,” said the General. The soldiers touched their caps, said “Yes. Sir,” and retired, somewhat hurt, to a strong position on a hen-coop in the rear of the house. The party then settled on the porch.

The General had of course no authority, and the surrender of the porch was purely respectful. Knowing this the soldiers were at first hurt, but a moment's reflection satisfied them that the General was right. He no doubt had suspicions of plunder, and these were increased by the movement of the men to the rear as he approached. He misinterpreted their conduct.

The lady of the house (a reward for her name!) hearing the dialogue in the yard, pushed her head through the crack of the kitchen door, and as she tossed a lump of dough from hand to hand and gazed eagerly out, addressed the soldiers: “Ain't that old General Lee?” “Yes, General Lee and his son and other officers come to dine with you,” they replied. “Well,” she said, “he ain't no better than the men that fought for him, and I don't reckon he is as hungry; so you just come in here. I am going to give you yours first and then I'll get something for him!”

What a meal it was. Seated at the kitchen-table, the large hearted woman bustling about and talking away, the ravenous tramps attacked a pile of Old Virginia hoecake and corn-dodger, a frying pan with an inch of gravy and slices of bacon, streak of lean and streak of fat, very numerous. To finish — as much rich buttermilk as the drinkers could contain. With many heartfelt thanks the survivors bid farewell to this immortal woman, and leaving the General and his party in quiet possession of the front porch, pursued their way.

Night found the “survivors” at the gate of a quite handsome, framed, country residence. The weather was threatening, and it was desirable to have shelter as well as rest. Entering and knocking at the door they were met by a servant girl. She was sent to her mistress with a request for permission to sleep on her premises. [182] The servant returned, saying: “Mistis say she's a widder, and there ain't no gentleman in the house, and she can't let you come in.” She was sent with a second message, which informed the lady that the visitors were from Richmond, members of a certain company from there, and would be content with permission to sleep on the porch, in the stable or in the barn. They would protect her property, &c., &c., &c.

This message brought the lady of the house to the door. She said: “If you are members of the--------, you must know my nephew; he was in that company.” Of course they knew him. “Old chum,” “comrade,” “particular friend,” “splendid fellow,” “hope he was well when you heard from him; glad to meet you, madam!” These and similar hearty expressions brought the longed for “come in, gentlemen, you are welcome. I will see that supper is prepared for you at once.” (Invitation accepted.)

The old haversacks were deposited in a corner under the steps and their owners conducted down stairs to a spacious dining-room, quite prettily furnished. A large table occupied the centre of the room, and at one side there was a handsome display of silver in a glass-front case. A good, big fire lighted the room. The lady sat quietly working at some woman's work, and from time to time questioning, in a rather suspicious manner, her guests. Their correct answers satisfied her and their respectful manner reassured her, so that by the time supper was brought in she was chatting and laughing with her “defenders.”

The supper came in steaming hot. It was abundant, well prepared and served elegantly. Splendid coffee, hot biscuit, luscious butter, fried ham, eggs-fresh milk! The writer could not expect to be believed if he should tell the quantity eaten at that meal. The good lady of the house enjoyed the sight. She relished every mouthful, and no doubt realized then and there the blessing which is conferred on hospitality and the truth of that saying of old: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

The wayfarers were finally shown to a neat little chamber. The bed was soft and glistening white. Too white and clean to be soiled by the occupancy of two Confederate soldiers who had not had a change of underclothing for many weeks. They looked at it, felt of it, spread their old blankets on the neat carpet and slept there till near the break of day.

While it was yet dark the travelers, unwilling to lose time waiting for breakfast, crept out of the house, leaving their thanks for [183] their kind hostess, and pressed rapidly on to Manikin Town, on the James River and Kanawha canal, half a day's march from Richmond, where they arrived while it was yet early morning. The green sward between the canal and river was inviting and the survivors laid there awhile to rest and determine whether or not they would push on to the city. They decided to do so as soon as they could find a breakfast to fit them for the day's march.

A short walk placed them at the yard gate of a house prominent by reason of its size and finish. Everything indicated comfort, plenty and freedom from the ravages of war. The proprietor, a well fed, hearty man of not more than forty-two or three, who, as a soldier could tell at a glance, had never seen a day's service, stood behind the tall gate, and without a motion towards opening it replied to the cheery “good morning, sir!” of the soldiers with a sullen “morn — what do you want here?” “We are from Richmond, sir, members of the------. We are on our way home from Appomattox, where the army was surrendered, and called to ask if you could spare us something to eat before we start on the day's march.” “Oh! yes! I know about the surrender! I do. Some scoundrels were here last night and stole my best mare — d----em! No, I don't want any more of such cattle here,” replied the patriot. (A large reward for his name). The foragers, having worked for a meal before and being less sensitive than “penniless gentlemen” sometimes are, replied: “We are not horse thieves or beggars. If you do not feel that it would be a pleasure and a privilege to feed us, don't do it! We don't propose to press the matter.”

At last he said: “Come in, then; I'll see what I can do.” The seekers after food accepted the ungracious invitation, followed the dog through his yard and into his house and took seats at his table. At a signal from the master a servant went out. The host followed and, it is supposed, instructed her. The host returned and was soon followed by the servant bearing two plates, which were placed before the “survivors.” Alas! that they should “survive” to see the plates contained the heads, tails, fins and vertibrae of the fish, fresh from the river, which the family of this hero and sufferer from the evils of war had devoured at their early and no doubt cosy breakfast.

“Survivor” No. 1 looked at “Survivor” No. 2, Survivor No. 2 looked at “Survivor” No. 1, and simultaneously they rose to their feet, glanced at the “host” and strode to and out of the door. The “host” followed amazed. “What's the matter, gentlemen? You did [184] not eat!” The “poor soldiers” replied: “No, we didn't eat; we are not dogs. Permit us to say we are satisfied it would be an injustice to the canine race to call you one; you deserve to lose another mare; you are meaner than the language at our command will express.”

The man fairly trembled. His face was pale with rage, but he dared not reply as he would. Recovering himself, and seeing an odorous name in the future, he attempted apology and reparation for the insult and complete reconciliation. “Oh! come in, come in! I'll have something cooked for you. Sorry the mistake occurred! All right! all right, boys, come in!” --pulling and patting at the “boys.” But the boys wouldn't “go in.” On the contrary they staid out persistently, and, before they left that gate, heaped on its owner all the contempt, disdain and scorn which they could express; flung at him all the derisive epithets which four years in the army places at a man's disposal; pooh poohed! at his hypocritical regrets, and shaking off the dust of that place from their feet, pushed on to the city, the smoke of which rose to heaven.

At 11 A. M. of the same day two footsore, despondent and penniless men stood facing the ruins of the home of a comrade who had sent a message to his mother: “Tell mother I am coming.” The ruins yet smoked. A relative of the lady whose home was in ashes and whose son said “I am coming” stood by the survivors. “Well, then,” he said, “it must be true that General Lee has surrendered.” The solemnity of the remark, coupled with the certainty in the minds of the survivors, was almost amusing. The “relative” pointed out the temporary residence of the “mother” and thither the survivors wended their way.

A knock at the door startled the mother, and with agony in her eyes she appeared at the opened door exclaiming, “My poor boys!” --“are safe and coming home,” said the survivors. “Thank God!” said the mother, and the tears flowed down her cheeks.

A rapid walk through ruined and smoking streets, some narrow escapes from negro soldiers on police duty, the satisfaction of seeing two of the “boys in blue” hung up by their thumbs for pillaging, a few handshakings, and the survivors found their way to the house of a relative, where they did eat bread with thanks.

A friend informed the survivors that day that farm hands were needed all around the city. They made a note of that and the name of one farmer. Saturday night the old blankets were spread on the parlor floor. Sunday morning, the 16th of April, they bid farewell to the household and started for the farmer's house. [185]

As they were about to start away, the head of the family took from his pocket a handfull of odd silver pieces, and extending it to his guests, told them it was all he had, but they were welcome to half of it! Remembering that he had a wife and three or four children to feed, the soldiers smiled through their teats at his, bade him keep it all and “weep for himself rather than for them.” So saying, they departed, and at sundown were at the farmer's house, fourteen miles away. Monday morning, the 17th, they “beat their swords” (muskets in this case) into plow-shares and did the first day's work of the sixty which the simple farmer secured at a cost to himself of about half rations for two men. Behold the gratitude of a people! Where grow now the shrubs which of old bore leaves and twigs for garlands? The brave live! are the fair dead? Shall time or calamity, downfall or ruin annihilate sacrifice or hatch an ingrate brood?

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