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Reminiseences of the army of Northern Virginia.

By J. William Jones.

Paper no. 6.

From Port Republic to the Chickahominy.

I closed my last sketch with a brief statement of how “Jackson and his foot cavalry” were “caught” at Cross Keys and Port Republic. There is abundant proof that Jackson's plan was, after repulsing Fremont with Ewell's division, to concentrate on Shields early the next morning, crush him, and then return to make finishing work of Fremont. But there was unexpected delay in crossing the river on account of a defect in the bridge, and the attack was thus postponed to a much later hour than was intended. Besides this Shields made a most gallant fight; his position was a strong one, well selected and most stubbornly held, and Jackson was not able to fulfil his purpose as expressed to Colonel Patton, whom he left to confront Fremont on the other side of the river: “By the blessing of Providence I hope to be back by 10 o'clock.”

It was after 10 o'clock before all of his troops had crossed the river. Jackson's first attacks were repulsed with heavy loss, and when Shields was finally driven from the field it was too late to go back after Fremont even if it had been deemed advisable to attack him again in the then exhausted condition of our troops.

Why Fremont stood idly by while Jackson was fighting Shields, and did not cross the river (as he could easily have done at several fords) and fall on Jackson's rear, has always been a mystery to us. In the afternoon he advanced into the open ground near the river, and as I gazed upon his long line of battle, his bright muskets gleaming in the rays of the sun, and his battle-flags rippling in the breeze, I thought it the finest military display I had ever seen, and only feared that he would cross the river. But there he stood an idle spectator of the raging battle, content to play no part in the drama, except to throw shot and shell at our ambulances and litter-bearers who were caring for the Federal wounded, and to shell the hospital into which we were gathering and ministering to the wounded of both armies.

Fremont retreated to Harrisonburg and thence down the valley, where he formed with Shields the juncture which they had so long coveted in vain, but which was now too late to be of value.

For five days Jackson rested his weary men in the beautiful valley [363] just above Port Republic where, on the Saturday following the battle, we were summoned by orders from headquarters to a most delightful thanksgiving service in which the stars and bars of rank knelt in the dust with the rough garb of the private soldier and our great chieftain brought the imperishable glory he had won and humbly laid it at the feet of the Lord of Hosts.

And surely the “Foot cavalry” were now entitled to at least a few days' rest. In thirty two-days they had marched nearly 400 miles, skirmishing almost daily, fought five battles, defeated three armies, two of which were completely routed, captured about twenty pieces of artillery, some 4,000 prisoners and immense quantities of stores of all kinds,. and had done all this with a loss of less than 1,000 men killed, wounded and missing.

The battle of “Seven Pines,” as the Confederates called it, or “Fair Oaks,” as it is named by the Federals, had been fought and claimed as a victory by both sides; and the Army of Northern Virginia had been deprived of its able commander, General J. E. Johnston, who was severely wounded.

But fortunately for the Confederate cause General R. E. Lee was called to the command. Some time before, when Colonel A. R. Boteler had applied to him from Jackson for an increase of his force to 40,000 men, with which he “would invade the North,” General Lee had replied: “But he must help me to drive these people away from Richmond first,” and the plan of the great campaign was thus foreshadowed.

Jackson's secrecy.

We were confident that we were to sweep down the Valley again, and the sending of some eight thousand troops from Richmond to reinforce Jackson deceived us as completely as it did the authorities at Washington. I remember to have heard General Ewell say just the day before we broke camp and started for Richmond: “Well, our reinforcements are coming up, and after a few days rest we shall march rapidly down the Valley again and beat up the enemy's quarters about Strausburg,” and when some time afterwards I intimated to General Ewell's chief of staff that he had merely made that remark for effect, as he, of course, knew of the contemplated movement, that officer assured me that General Ewell (the second in command) had not the most remote idea of the contemplated move — that when he did move the only orders he received were to march in the direction of Charlottesville — and [364] that as a rule Jackson kept Ewell and the rest of his officers in profound ignorance of his plans and purposes.

General J. A. Walker has recently given me an amusing illustration of this. A few days after Ewell's division moved into Swift Run Gap to take the place of Jackson's troops, who were then marching on Milroy, Walker had occasion to call to see Ewell on important business, but found him in such a towering rage that he took the advice of a member of the staff and did not broach his errand to him. But as he was about to leave Ewell called him and abruptly asked: “Colonel Walker, did it ever occur to you that General Jackson is crazy?”

“I don't know, General,” was the reply, “We used to call him ‘Fool Tom Jackson’ at the Virginia Military Institute, but I do not suppose that he is really crazy.”

“ I tell you sir,” rejoined the irate veteran, “he is as crazy as a March hare. He has gone away, I don't know where, and left me here with instructions to stay until he returns. But Banks's whole army is advancing on me, and I have not the most remote idea where to communicate with General Jackson. I tell you, sir, he is crazy, and I will just march my division away from here. I do not mean to have it cut to pieces at the behest of a crazy man.” And as Walker rode away he left Ewell pacing the yard of his quarters in no good humor at being thus left in ignorance of the whereabouts and plans of his chief.

Riding down to see General Elzey, who commanded the brigade, Colonel Walker found that officer in an exceedingly irritable frame of mind over an order he had received from General Ewell, and pretty soon he said: “I tell you sir, General Ewell is crazy, and I have a serious notion of marching my brigade back to Gordonsville.” Just then one of the conscripts who had been recently assigned to the Thirteenth Virginia (Walker's regiment), bolted in with a paper in his hand and rushing up to General Elzey exclaimed:

I want you, sir, to sign that paper at once, and give me my discharge. You have no right to keep me here, and I mean to go home.

As soon as General Elzey recovered from his astonishment at the fellow's impudence, he seized his pistols and discharged two shots at him as the man rushed out of sight. Coming back he exclaimed: “I should like to know, Colonel Walker what sort of men you keep over at that Thirteenth regiment? The idea of the rascal's demanding of me, a Brigadier-General, to sign a paper. Oh! if I could have only gotten hold of my pistols sooner.”

“ Well,” replied Walker, “I don't know what to do myself. I was up to see General Ewell just now, and he said that General Jackson [365] was crazy; I come down to see you, and you say that General Ewell is crazy; and I have not the slightest doubt that my conscript, who ran from you just now, will report it all over camp that General Elzey is crazy; so it seems I have fallen into evil hands, and I reckon the best thing for me to do is to turn the conscripts loose, and march the rest of my regiment back to Richmond.” This put General Elzey in a good humor, and they had a hearty laugh over the events of Colonel Walker's visits to division and brigade headquarters.

I might as well give here several other illustrations that came under my personal observation, of how Jackson concealed his plans from even his higher officers. A short time before the battle of Slaughter's Mountain our division had been lying all day in the turnpike above Gordonsville, when General Ewell rode up to a friend of mine, with whom I was conversing at the time, and asked:

Dr.----, can you tell me where we are going?

“That question,” was the reply, “I should like to ask you, General, if it were a proper one.”

“I pledge you my word,” said the General, “that I do not know whether we will march north, south, east or west, or whether we will march at all. General Jackson simply ordered me to have my division ready to move at early dawn. I have been ready ever since, but have had no further intimation of his plans. And that is about all I ever know of his designs.”

On the march to Slaughter's Mountain I remember that I lingered at our camp, three miles above Gordonsville, until sundown, in order to ride in the cool of the evening with a brother chaplain and a sick friend (a gallant artillery officer whom we could not persuade to go to the hospital), and was thus in the rear of our whole column. At Liberty Mills we met a courier who inquired, “How far back is General A. P. Hill?” We replied: “He is not on this road at all; he moved in the direction of Orange Courthouse.” “You certainly must be mistaken,” he said in great surprise, “I have a very important dispatch for him from General Ewell, who told me that I would find him at the head of his division moving immediately in rear of his own.” Upon our assuring him that we saw Hill's division break camp and file off on the road to Orange Courthouse, he said: “Well, I must hurry back and report to the General, for he is expecting an attack, and is relying on General Hill to support him.” I learned afterward that General Jackson had made the impression on General Ewell that Hill would follow him closely by the same road, and that upon information (which proved [366] false) that the enemy was advancing, Ewell was preparing to give battle in the confident expectation of being supported by Hill.

In the autumn of 1862, after the rest of the army had crossed the mountains, I was assured by one of our higher officers that our corps would certainly winter in the Valley — that he had gotten an intimation of this from General Jackson himself — and that he had ascertained that the General had rented a house for his family. We marched the next day for Eastern Virginia, and the glorious field of First Fredericksburg.

So completely did General Jackson conceal his plans from his staff and higher officers that it got to be a joke among them when one was green enough to attempt to fathom “Stonewall's ways.” The men used to say, “Well, if the Yankees are as ignorant of the meaning of this move as we are ‘old Jack’ has them.”

The movement from the Valley to Richmond was so secretly planned and executed that army, people, and enemy alike were completely deceived. The reinforcements sent to the Valley from Richmond were purposely sent in such a public manner as to have the report reach Washington as soon as possible, where it had the effect of inducing Mr. Lincoln to order General McDowell to delay his intended advance to McClellan's support, and caused the retreat down the Valley of all the forces opposed to Jackson. But the deception was rendered still more complete by a little finesse practiced by Colonel Munford, who held the Confederate advance with his cavalry.

A train of ambulances, with their escort, and a number of surgeons had come under flag of truce to Harrisonburg, to ask permission to carry back the Federal wounded, and while detaining them in a room adjoining his own quarters Colonel Munford received Mr. William Gilmer (a widely-known humorist, to whom he had given the cue), who came in with clanking spurs and sabre, and announced in a loud tone, “dispatches from General Jackson.” At this the Federal officers stealthily approached the partition to hear what would follow. “Do you bring any good news?” asked the Colonel.

“ Glorious news,” he answered. “The road from Staunton is chock full of soldiers, cannon and wagons come to reinforce Jackson in his march down the Valley. There is General Whiting, General Hood, General Lawton, and General I-don't-know-who. I never saw so many soldiers and cannon together in my life. People say there are thirty thousand of them.”

After a few more questions and answers of like import, framed for the benefit of the eavesdroppers, Colonel Munford dismissed his [367] “courier,” and the whole town was soon agog with the “glorious news.” Several hours afterwards Colonel Munford sent back his guests, who, of course, carried “the news” to headquarters. Colonel Munford pushed his advance down to New Market, and the Federal army immediately retreated to Strausburg, where they were busily engaged in fortifying against Jackson at the very time when “the foot cavalry” were thundering on McClellan's flank before Richmond.

Our march was so secretly undertaken and so secretly executed that our higher officers, as well as the men, were in profound ignorance of our destination.

At Charlottesville we expected to turn off through Green county to meet a rumored move of the enemy across the mountains. At Gordonsville I was told by the Presbyterian minister, at whose house Jackson made his headquarters, as a profound secret, not to be breathed, that we “would move at daybreak on Culpeper Courthouse.” We moved instead on Louisa Courthouse, where again we were deceived into thinking that we should move across by Spottsylvania Courthouse to meet McDowell's column coming down from Fredericksburg. At Frederick's Hall, Beaver Dam depot, and Hanover Junction, we still expected to head towards Fredericksburg, and it was really not until the afternoon of June 26, when we heard A. P. Hill's guns at Mechanicsville, that we appreciated the true nature of the move we had made, and the bloody work before us.

It was on this march that Jackson met one of Hood's Texans straggling from his command, when the following coloquy ensued:

Where are you going?

“I do not know, sir,” promptly responded the Texan.

“What command do you belong to?”

“I do not know, sir.”

“What State are you from?”

“Don't know, sir.”

“Well!” said the General a little impatiently, “what do you know?”

“Nothing at all, sir, on this march for old Stonewall says we must be know-nothings until after the next battle, and I am not going to disobey orders.”

At Fredericks Hall, Jackson made his headquarters, by special invitation, at one of those hospitable old Virginia mansions which were so famous in their day. The lady of the house had prepared the next morning an elegant breakfast, and sent to call General Jackson to partake of it; but his room was vacant and no one knew whither he had [368] gone. He had risen at 1 o'clock A. M., and with a single courier, had started on a ride of fifty-one miles to Richmond to hold a conference with General Lee. He impressed several horses on the route — the owners growling loudly at being compelled to give up their horses to “that grum colonel, who looked as if he would not hesitate to shoot if necessary.”

Mr. Matthew Hope, who resided in the lower end of Louisa county, gave me a very amusing account of his interview with him. Galloping up to his house about 4 o'clock in the morning he aroused Mr. Hope and asked if he had a good, fleet horse.

“Yes, sir!” was the reply, “I have the best horse in this region.”

“Well, then, bring him out quick, for I want him! I am a Confederate officer, traveling on important business. My own horse is broken down and I must have yours.”

“You shall do no such thing,” was the reply. “I do not keep horses for any straggler that may chance to come along.”

“ But my business is urgent, and if you do not let me have the horse I shall be compelled to take him.”

“ But what guarantee do you offer me that it is all right?” persisted Mr. Hope.

“ None but my word, sir; but I have no time to argue the case, and you will please saddle the horse at once.”

“I shall certainly do no such a thing,” was the irate reply “I do not saddle horses for myself, and I shall not do it for you.”

But Jackson cut the matter short by dismounting, and with the assistance of his courier, saddled the fresh horse and galloped off with the promise that he would return him in a few days.

Mr. Hope says that when the horse came back “with General Jackson's compliments,” his chagrin knew no bounds, as he would have esteemed it a privilege to let him have every horse he had, and to have saddled them for him, too.

Jackson rode into Richmond so quietly that no one knew of his presence; had his interview with General Lee; received all of the instructions necessary to enable him to carry out his part of the great battle which was to culminate in McClellan's “change of base,” and galloped back to the head of his column before it was suspected that he had been absent at all.

And now we hurried forward to bivouac near Ashland, in the “slashes of Hanover,” and to march the next day to our position on the flank, while A. P. Hill led his splendid “Light division” across the [369] Chickahominy at Meadow Bridge and opened the great battle by advancing on the enemy at Mechanicsville.

But of these battles, the part borne in them by the “Foot cavalry” and the masterly retreat made by McClellan in his “change of base,” I must speak in my next.

I have only been able to give in this an imperfect sketch of how we were transferred from the mountains to the Chickahominy.

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