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Reminiscences of the army of Northern Virginia, or the boys in gray, as I saw them from Harper's Ferry in 1861 to Appomattox Court-house in 1865.

by J. Wm. Jones.
[Prefatory Note.--The readers of our Papers will bear witness that the Secretary has not often troubled them with his own writing, preferring that our valuable space should be filled by other pens. As I have been, however, frequently urged by gentlemen, in whose judgment I have great confidence, to publish a series of papers which shall attempt a sketch of army life as I saw it, I have decided to yield to their solicitation, so far, at least, as to present several papers on different phases of the history of our grand old army. It is for others to say how far it may be desirable to continue them. My general design is (while preserving the strictest historic accuracy as to our great campaigns and battles, bringing out especially the great odds against which we fought) to draw a series of pictures of the prominent leaders, and of the private soldiers of that army, showing who they were, what they were, what they did, and what they said on the march, in the camp, the bivouac, the hospital, and on the battlefield.]

Paper no. 1.

Early days of the war.

It was my proud privilege to follow the fortunes of the Army of Northern Virginia, from Harper's Ferry, in 1861, to Appomattox Court-house, in 1865. Entering the service as “high private in the rear rank,” and afterward acting as chaplain in both Stonewall Jackson's and A. P. Hill's corps, I had some peculiar facilities for seeing and knowing what occurred. Personally acquainted with Robert E. Lee, J. E. Johnston, Beaureguard, Jackson, Stuart, Ewell, A. P. Hill, Early, Edward Johnson, Rodes, Pender, Heth, Wilcox, Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, W. H. F. Lee, John B. Gordon, Pegram, J. A. Walker, and a large number of others of our leading officers, I at the same time made it my duty to know thoroughly the unknown private of the rank and file. I marched with him along the weary road; I bivouaced with him in the pelting storm; I shared with him the rough delights of the camp; I joined with him in those delightful services which proved that Jesus was often in the army with a power rarely witnessed at home. I went with him into the leaden and iron hail of battle, and I ministered to him in the loathsome hospital. I saw him in the hour of victory giving a right royal greeting to his loved and honored chief — and I saw him [91] when he wept bitter tears, upon being “compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.”

It will be for me, therefore, a privilege and a pleasure to recall a few reminiscences of our grand old army, as I saw it, and to give some pen pictures of it, which I trust will be true to life, of interest to old comrades and others, and not devoid of historic value.

I will not dwell upon the details of leaving home — at sundown on the memorable 17th day of April, 1861--in obedience to a telegram from the governor of Virginia, of the ovation along the route to Manassas, Front Royal, Strausburg, and Winchester to Harper's Ferry, nor of the bloodless victory in the capture of the armory, arsenal, and an invaluable quantity of arms, machinery, etc., which were safely sent to Richmond. The world has rarely seen a more splendid body of men than the volunteer companies who composed the troops which captured Harper's Ferry. Among the rank and file were the very flower of our Virginia men, and, perhaps, half of those who afterwards attained the highest rank in the Virginia forces were in the rank and file of those brave fellows who rushed to the frontier at the first tap of the drum.

The gallant gentlemen who at first commanded at Harper's Ferry were totally inexperienced in the art of war, and there was a great deal of confusion in the management of affairs, the camps being filled with wild rumors, and the whole force being frequently turned out on false alarms.

Soon, however, a master hand took the reins--“Major T. J. Jackson,” of the Virginia Military Institute, having been commissioned Colonel of the Virginia forces and sent to take command at Harper's Ferry. This promotion was a surprise, and a grief, to people who only knew Jackson as a quiet professor in Lexington.

But Governor Letcher knew the story of his brilliant career in Mexico, and had faith in his soldierly qualities. When his name was presented to the Virginia Convention for confirmation a member rose and asked “who is this Major Jackson?” and the delegate from Rockbridge replied, “He is a man of whom you may be certain that if you tell him to hold a position he will never leave it alive.” I remember that we, too, asked when he first got to Harper's Ferry, the last of April; “Who is Colonel Jackson?” but during the month he held the command he showed so clearly that he knew just what he was about that we were almost sorry when we first heard, the last of May, that the command had been turned over to that great strategist, General J. E. Johnston.

Frequent guard and picket duty, almost constant drilling (I remember [92] one Sunday I had made two appointments to preach, but was on drill seven hours during the day, and was sent on picket that night), and the routine of the camp kept us very busy, and soon brought comparative order out of the chaos that had reigned, so that the Army of the Shenandoah which Colonel Jackson turned over to General Johnston was tolerably well armed and equipped, under fair discipline, and full of fight.

As we stood picket on Maryland Heights, or up and down the Potomac, or as we turned out to meet a rumored advance of the enemy, we verily believed that Harper's Ferry was one of the strongholds of the Confederacy and that our force could maintain it against all comers. My company (the “Louisa Blues,” Captain H. W. Murray) was one that entered into the organization of the Thirteenth Virginia infantry, which was to make for itself a reputation second to none in the service. Our colonel was A. P. Hill, who had won a fine reputation in the old army, and was one of the most accomplished soldiers with whom I ever came in contact, who was the idol of his men, and who, by his gallantry and skill, steadily rose to the rank of Lieutenant-General, and fell, mourned by the whole South, on that ill-fated day, at Petersburg, which witnessed the breaking of his lines and the virtual fall of the Confederacy.

Our Lieutenant-Colonel was James A. Walker, who would have graduated first in his class at the Virginia Military Institute had he not been expelled for a difficulty with “old Jack.” But this difficulty was all forgotten when Jackson witnessed Walker's splendid courage and marked skill in the field; and one of the very strongest recommendations given during the war was Jackson's recommendation for Walker's promotion. He succeeded to the command of the old “Stonewall brigade;” was terribly wounded at Spotsylvania Court-house, but returned to take the command of Early's old division, which he gallantly led to Appomattox Court-house. He is now the able and honored Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia.

Our Major was J. E. B. Terrill, a brilliant graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, whose gallantry and skill won for him the Brigadier's wreath and stars just as he yielded up his brave young life at. Bethesda church, in June, 1864.

With such leaders, and the splendid material which composed our regiment, it soon become the pride of its officers and the glory of its humblest private soldier.

It was my privilege, while at Harper's Ferry, to see occasionally Captain Turner Ashby, whose raven locks and soldierly bearing even then [93] attracted attention, and whose name had become famous when he fell in June, 1862, as Brigadier-General of cavalry, but gallantly leading an infantry charge.

I saw here also Colonel J. E. B. Stuart, who afterwards became the idol of the army, Colonel E. Kirby Smith, who was to surrender, as General commanding, the trans-Mississippi Department, Major Whiting, who was to win his wreath and stars and imperishable glory for his brave defense of Wilmington, and a number of others who are not unknown to fame.

General Johnston at once won the confidence and enthusiastic admiration of all the troops; but it required all of their love for him to bear with any patience his decision, that so far from being a “stronghold,” Harper's Ferry was “a complete man-trap,” and should be evacuated as soon as the machinery, &c., could be removed.

On the 13th of June, Colonel A. P. Hill, with his own regiment and the Tenth Virginia, moved back to Winchester, and preparations for the evacuation of Harper's Ferry were begun at once.

To one of Lee's veterans it is very amusing to recall those days of “holiday” soldiering at Harper's Ferry, where we were all quartered in houses, where we drilled in dress uniforms and white gloves, where every private soldier had his trunk, and each company enough baggage for a small wagon train.

But now we were to become sure enough soldiers. On the 14th, Colonel Hill was started (with his own regiment, the Tenth Virginia, and the Third Tennessee) to make a march to Romney, forty-three miles west of Winchester, for the purpose of meeting a reported advance in that direction of his old West Point chum, McClellan. I well remember the scene on the streets of Winchester, as we marched through, amid the waving of handkerchiefs by the ladies and the shouts of the crowd; the hospitality of the good people along the route, who supplied us with buttermilk and “wheat bread;” the sufferings of the men, all unused to marching, who soon filled the ambulances and the wagons; the warm reception we met at Romney by people who hailed us as their “deliverers,” and treated us with the utmost kindness; and the pleasure I fund in relieving blistered feet by resorting to my boyhood habit of going barefooted.

While at Romney, the Commissary, a young gentleman who had been detailed for the purpose, reported one day that he could find no beef for that day's rations. “Very well,” said Colonel Hill, “you can report back to your company. We have no earthly use for a Commissary who, in a country like this, cannot furnish regular rations for the [94] men.” Calling for his horse, he rode out from camp, and was soon seen coming back driving a herd of fine beeves, amid the enthusiastic shouts of the soldiers: “Colonel Hill is the Commissary for us.”

On the night of the 18th of June, Colonel Hill sent two companies of the Thirteenth Virginia and two of the Third Tennessee to surprise the Federal garrison and destroy the bridge at New Creek, on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. The expedition was a success, 250 of the enemy were put to flight, and when the detachment returned with two pieces of captured artillery and several stand of colors, each man was a hero in the eyes of his comrades as well as his own, and the rest of us felt deep chagrin that we had not belonged to the chosen band.

It being settled that McClellan would not advance by that route, we were marched back to the neighborhood of Winchester. Colonel Elzey, of the First Maryland regiment, was now put in command of our brigade, which was made to consist of the Thirteenth Virginia, Third Tennessee, Tenth Virginia, and First Maryland, and we had a season of constant drilling, heavy guard duty, and rigid discipline.

On the 21st of July, Colonel Jackson had a sharp skirmish at Falling Waters with the advance of General Patterson's army, in which, with 300 of the Fifth Virginia regiment, and one piece of artillery (commanded by Captain Rev. Dr. Pendleton), he kept back, for some time, two brigades of the enemy, and retired when about to be flanked, bringing off forty-five prisoners and inflicting other loss, with a loss on his part of only two killed and six or eight wounded.

General Johnston at once advanced his whole army to Darkesville, six miles from Martinsburg, where we found Jackson awaiting us, and where, for four days, we remained in line of battle, and, with a force of not quite 9,000, threw down the guage to General Patterson, with his upwards of 20,000. I mingled freely among the men here, having old college mates in nearly every command, and I never saw men more anxious to fight — being eager to be led to attack the enemy at Martinsburg when it seemed settled he would not attack us.

It was while we were at Darkesville that I first came in personal contact with the afterwards world-renowned “StonewallJackson, who was then a modest Brigadier-General of two days standing. A col-porteur (a friend of mine) had sent me word that he desired permission to enter our lines to distribute Bibles and tracts. With the freedom with which in our army the humblest private could approach the highest officer I at once went to General Jackson for the permit. I have a vivid recollection of how he impressed me. Dressed in a simple Virginia uniform, apparently about thirty-seven years old, six feet [95] high, medium size, gray eyes that seemed to look through you, light brown hair, and a countenance in which deep benevolence seemed mingled with uncompromising sternness, he impressed me as having about him nothing at all of the “pomp and circumstance of war,” but every element which enters into the skillful leader, and the indomitable, energetic soldier who was always ready for the fight. Stating to him my mission, he at once replied in pleasant tones, and with a smile of peculiar sweetness: “Certainly, sir, it will give me great pleasure to grant all such permits. I am glad that you came to me, and I shall be glad to be introduced to the colporteur.”

Afterward, introducing my friend, Jackson said to him: “You are more than welcome to my camp, and it will give me great pleasure to help you in your work in every way in my power. I am more anxious than I can express that my men should be, not only good soldiers of their country, but also good soldiers of the Cross.” We lingered for some time in an exceedingly pleasant conversation about the religious welfare of the army, and when I turned away, with a very courteous invitation to call on him again, I felt that I had met a man of deeptoned piety, who carried his religion into every affair of life, and who was destined to make his mark in the war.

When, at the expiration of the four days, we were ordered back to Winchester, the murmurs were both loud and deep, and the beautiful order issued by General Johnston was scarce sufficient to allay the dissatisfaction at returning without a fight.

We were then learning our first lessons in war; we became afterwards quite willing to allow our commander to decide when we should fight.

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