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Reminiscences of the army of Northern Virginia.

by J. Wm. Jones.

Paper no. 2.--First Manassas and its Sequel.

Remaining for some days longer in front of Winchester, and several times called into line of battle on false alarms, the private soldier was forming his own plan of campaign when our great commander received information that Beauregard was being attacked at Manassas, and determined at once to hasten to his relief.

Accordingly, about noon on the 18th of July Johnston left a cordon of Stuart's cavalry to conceal the movement from General Patterson, and put his column in motion for Ashby's Gap and Manassas. As soon as we had gotten about two miles from Winchester there was read to us a ringing battle order from our chief, in which he stated that Beauregard was being attacked at Manassas by a greatly superior force — that this was “a forced march to save the country,” and that he expected us to step out bravely, to close up our ranks, and do all that could be required of patriotic soldiers who were fighting for “liberty, home and fireside.” I remember how we cheered that order, and the swinging stride with which we set out, as if determined to [130] make the whole march that night. But it proved a most wearisome and unsatisfactory march — the straggling was fearful — and we only reached Piedmont Station, thirty-four miles from Manassas, in the time in which a year later we could easily have made Manassas Junction. Jackson's brigade being in front reached Piedmont at 8 o'clock in the morning of the 19th, and two hours later took the cars for Manassas. Our brigade did not reach Piedmont until late that night. Incidents of the march were the wading of the Shenandoah — the cheers with which we greeted the announcement that Beauregard had defeated the attack upon him at Bull Run — the frequent raids we made on blackberry patches (a witty surgeon of our brigade remarked that our bill of fare on the march was “three blackberries a day; pick them yourself, and if you got a fourth one it was to be turned over to the commissary” )--and the crowds of people who turned out to see us pass and supply us with what food they had. I remember that on reaching Piedmont, late in the night, my regiment was assigned a place of bivouac which was covered with water, and I looked around for some more comfortable quarters until I found in an old-fashioned Virginia chicken-coop a couch where “nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep,” soon brought me rest as refreshing as I ever enjoyed on downy pillows.

We were detained at Piedmont until late in the night of the 20th by being unable to obtain transportation. I witnessed here an incident which illustrated the fact that at this date every private in our ranks thought himself as good as the highest officer. While General Kirby Smith was superintending the embarkation of the troops, a private in my company asked him a question, to which the General gave a rough reply, whereupon the soldier straightened himself up and said: “I asked you a civil question, sir, and if you were disposed to act the gentleman you would give me a civil answer.” General Smith at once grasped the hilt of his sword, but the soldier quietly drew his pistol and said: “If you don't put up that sword I'll shoot you.” The private was arrested, but Colonel Hill interceded for him and General Smith generously consented to his release.

I do not know whether it is true, as was currently reported, that one of the engineers proved traitor and caused a collision of two trains, but I know that we had a wearisome night on the crowded cars waiting for the track to be cleared; that we went down Sunday morning very cautiously, expecting the enemy to strike the railroad; that for miles we heard the roar of the battle then progressing; that once we disembarked and formed line of battle on a report that the enemy were advancing on the road, and that we reached Manassas Junction when the [131] excitement was at its height, and were double-quicked out to the Lewis House, where we arrived just in time to witness the rout of McDowell's grand army, and join in the shouts of victory.

I shall give no description of the battle of Manassas, nor enter into any details as to its results. But it may be well to correct a widely circulated error in reference to the movements of Gen. Kirby Smith, who was represented as stopping the train four miles above the Junction, and marching across the fields to strike the Federal army in flank, and thus decide the fate of the day. Now, as Gen. Smith was that day in command of our brigade (until he was wounded, and Col. Elzey resumed the command), I am prepared to assert in the most positive manner that no such movement was made, but that the brigade was carried on to the Junction, reported to Gen. Johnston, and (with the exception of the Thirteenth Virginia, which was detached), was marched thence to the battle-field, where it arrived at an opportune moment, and, together with Early's brigade, gave the finishing blows of the hard-fought field. I had, until recently, the blanket under which I slept on the battle field that night, and it recalled a thousand reminiscences which I will not here relate.

The next day we were marched to Fairfax Station, and held the advance at that point, picketing on the outposts, and having not a few stirring skirmishes with the enemy. I might fill pages with the details of this outpost service; but I recall only a few incidents.

In the latter part of July, or the first of August, Stuart, with five companies of the First Maryland and five of the Thirteenth Virginia, and several companies of cavalry, captured Mason's, Munson's and Hall's hills, from which we could plainly see the dome of the Capitol at Washington. The day we captured Munson's hill, Major Terrill was sent with a detachment of the Thirteenth on a scout, during which we drove in the enemy's pickets, ate their smoking dinner, and pursued them back until they rallied on their reserve, and our gallant Major thought it would not be prudent to advance further. Accordingly we were moving back to our reserve when we met Stuart. “What is the matter? I hope you are not running from the Yankees,” said the “gay cavalier.” Major Terrill explained, and Stuart said, “That was all right, but the Maryland boys are coming, and I think we must go back and beat up the quarters of those people.” Just then a scout rode up and informed him that the enemy were fully five thousand strong and had five pieces of artillery. (We numbered about five hundred). “Oh, no!” was the laughing reply, “you are romancing. But it does not matter how many they number. We can whip them [132] anyway; and as for their artillery, the Southern Confederacy needs artillery, and we will just go and take possession of those pieces.” Dismounting from his horse after our line of battle was formed, he took a musket and was among the foremost in the charge as we dashed forward and cleared the wood to and beyond the Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad, causing the long roll to beat and the troops to turn out formiles along General McClellan's front.

It was my privilege to see a good deal of Stuart at this period, at his Headquarters, on a red blanket, spread under a pine tree on Munson's hill. His athletic frame indicating that he was a splendid war machine — his lofty forehead, flashing blue eyes, prominent nose, heavy, reddish-brown whiskers and mustache — his beaming countenance and clear, ringing laughter, and his prompt decision, rapid execution and gallant dash, all showed that he was a born leader of men, and pointed him out as a model cavalryman. Those were merry days on the outpost, when we fought for a peach orchard, a tomato patch, or a cornfield, when Stuart would call for volunteers to drive in the enemy's pickets, or amuse himself with having Rosser's artillery “practice” at Professor Lowe's balloon, or sending up a kite with lantern attached, or causing the long roll to beat along McClellan's whole front, by sending up sky-rockets at night from different points.

On the 11th of September, Stuart took 305 men of the Thirteenth Virginia, two companies of his cavalry, and two pieces of Rosser's battery, and advanced on Lewinsville, where, by a skillful handling of his little command, he drove off a force of the enemy consisting of a brigade of infantry, eight pieces of artillery, and a detachment of cavalry. I remember how delighted Stuart was, as he declared, “We have whipped them out of their boots.”

He was also chuckling over the following note, which was left for him with a citizen by his old West Point comrade, Griffin:

Dear “beauty,” --I have called to see you, and regret very much that you are “not in.” Can't you dine with me at Willard's to-morrow? Keep your “black horse” off me.

Your old friend,

To this note Stuart made the following reply:

Dear Griffin,--I heard that you had “called,” and hastened to see you, but as soon as you saw me coming, you were guilty of the discourtesy of turning your back on me. However, you probably hurried [133] on to Washington to get the dinner ready. I hope to dine at Willard's, if not “to-morrow,” certainly before long.

Yours to count on,


Stuart was made a Brigadier-General for his gallantry and skill on the outposts, and wrote Colonel Hill, who was then comanding the brigade, a most complimentary letter concerning the conduct of the Thirteenth Virginia regiment. I recollect that a facetious private in one of our companies (poor fellow, he fell at Gaines's Mill in 1862, bravely doing his duty) remarked in reference to this letter, which was read out on dress parade, “I do not like it at all. It means ‘you are good fellows, and there is more bloody work for you to do.’ It is preparatory to butting our heads against those stone walls down about Arlington. I would rather exchange our Minnie muskets for old flint-locks, and get no compliments from the Generals, and then, perhaps, we might be sent back to Orange Court-house, to guard the sick and wounded.”

I remember one night, two of us were on picket-post in a drenching rain, and had received orders to be especially alert, as the enemy were expected to advance that night. We had constructed very respectable breastworks in a fence-corner, with port-holes for our guns, and were prepared to give a warm reception to any approaching blue-coats. About two o'clock in the morning, the rain still pouring in torrents, my comrade was quietly smoking his pipe, while I was keeping a sharp lookout, when he suddenly called me by name, and said: “I want here and now, in this drenching rain, on the outpost, to lay down a plank in my future political platform. If I live to get through this war, and two candidates are presented for my suffrage, the very first question I mean to ask will be: ‘Which one of them fit?’ and I mean always to vote for the man who fit. I tell you those able-bodied men who are sleeping in feather beds to-night, while we are standing here in the rain to guard their precious carcasses, must be content to take back seats when we get home.”

I gave him my hand there in the dark, and my pledge that I would stand with him on the camp platform.

These frequent movements with cavalry, often requiring long or very rapid marches, made the men begin to speak of the regiment as the “foot cavalry.” But the first time I ever heard the sobriquet publicly applied was after the evacuation of Manassas, in March, 1862, while General Ewell was holding with his division the line of the [134] Rappahannock. Our regiment had been on picket at Bealton Station as a support to Stuart's cavalry, and the enemy were rapidly advancing in large force, when another infantry regiment came down on a train of cars to relieve us. We had just gotten on the train, our friends were rapidly forming line of battle to meet the Federal advance, “JebStuart was going to the front with his “fighting jacket” on, and our train was slowly moving back, when a battery of the enemy galloped into position, and threw some shell, which shrieked through the air, and exploded uncomfortably near us. Immediately Colonel Walker called out in his clear, ringing tones, “It's all right, boys. The Thirteenth Foot Cavalry are mounted at last, and we will try the speed of our horse-flesh.” So saying, he ordered the engineer to increase his speed, and we rushed to the rear amid the shouts of the men, who gave “three cheers for the foot cavalry,” and made the woods echo with the camp song,

If you want to have a good time,
Jine the cavalry.

The whole of Jackson's splendid corps was afterwards called “the foot cavalry;” but I believe that the above was the origin of the sobriquet. My grand old regiment afterwards won imperishable renown as it bore its tattered battle-flag into the very thickest of the fight on many a victorious field, but we never forgot those bright days with Stuart, when we had our “outpost service with the foot cavalry.”

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