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Chapter 4: the Valley of the Shenandoah (continued)—Return to Strasburg.

At Edenburg the weather was sometimes like our own New England in June, when the air is warm and hazy, and the leaves rustle with a dreamy melody, and birds are exuberant with song. But hardly had we begun to feel in harmony with sunny days and blooming peach1-trees and warm showers, before a chill came over us, as bitter as the hatred of the women of Virginia; the ground covered with snow, the air thick with hail, and the distant mountains hidden in the chilling and frozen atmosphere. Our shivering sentinels on the outer lines met at times the gaze of half-frozen horsemen of the enemy, peering through the mist as if to see what the “Yankees” had been doing within the last twenty-four hours. It was hard to believe we were in the “sunny South,” for there was never more marrow-penetrating weather at the North. Life entered upon at Edenburg under the excitement of a fight became monotonous. Tents began to take in that fulness of equipment only accumulated by time; and comforts began to show themselves, in thick layers of pine boughs which served for both bed and carpet. For myself, an ordinary camp-stool was devoted to official use as my table; while boot-leggings, gauntlets, sword, field and spy glass, candle, matches, hair and tooth brush, looking-glass, carpet-bag, [150] box, india-rubber cloak, wash-basin and pail, with sundry old newspapers in a pile, lay in confusion upon the ground. Six stones in a circle enclosed the dead ashes that sometimes supplied heat, although I usually relied upon a fire of logs in front of my tent, which generally smoked the inside sufficiently. If one inquires whence came articles of comfort, I will answer them according to the reply I received from an officer of my staff: “Why, you see, sir, my boy Jim is a very good servant, and has a faculty of finding whatever is wanted. I wanted a surcingle for my horse,--Jim found one in the woods; same with a drinking-cup, two chairs, and various other little things. He now is in search of a ham, a frying-pan, and a tea-kettle. I have n't a doubt he will find them in the woods.” Well, there was novelty in the life, and good cheer at night around the camp-fires, while scenes and incidents of the day were related. I recall the brightly gleaming face of our chaplain, with the firelight glancing from his spectacles, his jolly laugh, as his rotund form seems to swell with very comfort before the blaze. I hear again my horse's uneasy tramp behind my tent, chided with the vociferous “whoa” of my groom; again the bands of distant regiments playing merrily at their evening hours, the men chaffing in their tents, and the voice of our indefatigable Stephen, who, announcing “Supper is ready, sir!” invites us into a bower of pines, where he repeats night after night the same bill,--of tea, strong enough to whip a “Monitor,” ham, tongue, and bread, perhaps toast.

On Sundays religious services by our chaplain came to us with a new meaning. We had seen death enough then to call attention to our own mortality; and the men and officers were more attentive on Sundays than at Winchester, and listened to beautiful selections, read by the chaplain in a clear voice, from an Episcopal prayer-book. [151] The band played, and sang, too, some of the old-time tunes; and many perceived that a gap in their existence, which they had long felt without knowing what it was, had been filled. But our days at Edenburg were soon to be of the past. Jackson's main force was not very near us; they were some eight miles away, at Mount Jackson, and ready to run when we approached. It was Jackson's faithful officer, Ashby, against whom our fourteen guns had been daily pouring forth their torrents of fire,against his guns of shorter range, English ammunition, and shells that did not always burst.

On the seventeenth of April, when the joyful news came to move forward in pursuit of Jackson, it was received with cheers of delight. The objective point was New Market, fifteen miles farther southward on the pike. If the enemy was disposed to give battle, there were some strong positions on our route. The military problem, therefore, was to turn them with one column, while another moved forward. Mill Creek at Mount Jackson, like Stony Creek at Edenburg, rises in the range of mountains bounding the valley on the west, flows at right angles to the pike, crosses it, and empties into the North Fork of the Shenandoah. On the south side of the creek, a few hundred yards from the bridge, rises the commanding hill called Mount Jackson. The pike passes through the flat bottom-land, south of the creek, before it winds over the hill, whose summit not only commands all the approaches, but, if held, makes the crossing of the pike and bridge at the creek an exceedingly difficult operation, exposing an attacking force along the narrow, uncovered roadway to a destructive fire. At four o'clock in the morning, our whole command moved across the creek at Edenburg, forward for Mount Jackson. The leading column, commanded by General Shields, and comprising his division, was formed [152] at midnight, and crossed the creek before daylight, hoping to take the enemy by surprise. General Williams commanded the reserve,--made up of his division,--in which was my brigade, and, of course, my regiment. From Edenburg on the west, a dirt road, called the middle, runs at a varying distance from the pike, of one mile to two, then unites with it at Harrisonburg. When Shields advanced, a small force, as a flanking column (should the enemy stand before reaching Mount Jackson), moved on this middle road with orders to join the main body at that place. As the enemy knew as well as we did what we were about, it was no surprise to us, when the advance arrived where the enemy's pickets had been posted, that nothing but expiring camp-fires were found.

The negroes told our men that the Rebels had moved off but a short time before we came up. We followed one mile in rear of Shields, until the hot sun beat down upon our troops, and the dust covered them, and their ]napsacks became a burden. When it became a certainty that Jackson would not meet us this side of Mount Jackson, we proceeded more leisurely. As usual, Ashby put his guns in position once or twice on a wooded hill, and sent his shells howling over us; but he did no harm. Our batteries replied, and Ashby moved on. Thus we proceeded until the bridge across the creek at Mount Jackson was reached, where there was some heavy skirmishing. Ashby with his white horse was conspicuous in an attempt to burn the bridge, and we in an attempt to save it; and we succeeded: our cavalry dashed over, and extinguished the flames. The enemy now retired behind the hill at Mount Jackson, and our troops were drawn up in line of battle on the north side of the creek. Some of the enemy's forces were distinctly visible on the summit of the hill. We had come up with Jackson's main command. Would [153] he fight here? It was thought that he might: so a flanking column was again organized, to proceed along the north side of the creek to the middle road, then turning south to follow it to New Market; thus turning Mount Jackson, Rude's Hill, and all other strong positions on the road. The turning column comprised two brigades, one of Shields's division commanded by Colonel Dunning, and my own. With orders to attack Jackson in rear or join the main column if he had fled, I moved off at noon, accompanied by signal officers to keep up a constant communication with the main column. The sun was then pouring down a blasting heat, the men were tired already from their early start, and the road was a succession of quagmires and stone ledges. The column kept pretty well up until we made our first halt, where we struck the middle road, about a mile and a half from the pike. Here we found a house, rather pretentious for the country, with a cupola affording our signal officers an extensive view; and across the road a store, which with the house was owned by one Rinker. As a Virginian, Rinker did not invite us to partake of his hospitality: both house and store were closed. While we rested, some of our men, becoming too inquisitive, broke the fastenings to the store, and began to levy upon straw hats for the summer campaign. I had observed the unhappy Rinker flitting uneasily around, and was not unaware of his mingled emotions of rage, fear, and cupidity. The man had objected to the signal officers using his cupola, and had borne himself as one defiant before his enemy; but this breaking into his store unmanned him in a moment, and he begged for my interposition. I pitied him, and restored some of his property; although enough was retained to punish what I then thought was one of the most pestilent Rebels that ever cursed the Yankees. What became of Rinker and his [154] store during the campaigns that followed in the valley, I leave to the imagination to conceive. At about forty minutes after two I received a note from my assistant adjutant-general, whom I had sent forward to communicate with Colonel Dunning, that that officer, with four regiments, two batteries, and one squadron, was about two and a half or three miles in advance; that he was ordered to proceed to New Market that night, and would like to have me keep within one mile of him.

Although Dunning's brigade went ahead, it was largely in the rear; his men began to drop out shortly after leaving Mount Jackson; and from there to New Market they were scattered along the road singly and in twenties. They dropped down anywhere, and at once were fast asleep. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there were one thousand stragglers on that march of eleven or twelve miles; there was a complete chain of them. To be sure the road was of the worst description; it was a succession of clayey sloughs with deep mud alternating with rocky hills. There were creeks to be forded, in which the water came up to the men's knees; so that shoes, originally bad, were rendered so useless by alternate drying and soaking, that many of our own men marched along on that weary day of oppressive heat in their stocking-feet. The prospect of a fight was exciting; we listened eagerly for sounds from the few left in Dunning's brigade. Still we plodded on until dark; every one was completely exhausted. I had been in the saddle from 4 A. M. until 9 P. M. We were within two miles of New Market, and well in rear of Rude's Hill and all other threatening positions, when the column halted, and the men fell asleep as soon as they touched the ground. In the morning we learned that Shields had the night before passed through the town, and gone four miles beyond it; that Jackson had made no [155] stand at Rude's Hill, but that at ten o'clock--two hours at least before we began our grand flank movement — he had passed through New Market, which is four miles farther south than the point to be turned by our flanking march. There was then nothing for us to do but join the main column by a diverging dirt road, which, first crossing the Shenandoah at a ford, led us into the main pike at the town. After a scanty breakfast, the river was reached, the passage effected, and afterwards described as follows:--

“The passage of the Shenandoah was a ludicrous sight. The river was very swift, waist-deep, and very rocky; the Massachusetts men generally held up their coat-skirts, and went in as they were; the Indiana boys went in in a uniform of boots, shirt and coat carefully tucked up to be out of the water. An individual is a funny-enough-looking spectacle in such a dress, or rather undress, but a whole regiment, officers and men alike the same, makes a sight that is quite overpowering. Every one came over safely, but a few guns were lost. The current was so strong that it took the legs out from under several of the men, and gave them a good washing, an operation that long abstinence rendered sadly necessary.” 1

Having forded the Shenandoah safely, we marched through New Market, and went into camp just beyond the town. The resistance we had met was weak,--weaker than we expected,--and was a disappointment, both to our own men and the Rebel inhabitants of the valley, who had as yet no cause to praise Jackson for the results of the battle of Kernstown, or for retaining our forces in the valley, if that was his motive.

From Harper's Ferry to New Market I have thus given a faithful narrative of the opposition we encountered from General Jackson and his army. At Charlestown, at [156] Winchester, and at Strasburg, we had heard extravagant stories of the great resistance we were to meet. It was always at some point farther on. At New Market we heard that Jackson had left the valley. What this signified we found out afterwards; but of what had transpired one may well imagine our feelings in reading that “Jackson then crept along in the days succeeding Kernstown, like a wounded wolf, but turning every moment to snap at his pursuers, and offer battle if they pressed on him.” 2

Though the valley from Strasburg had at every step developed new beauties, the scene at New Market was one of the most lovely I had seen. Such rich slopes and green fields, magnificent vales and grand mountains, ever in sight as we followed the North Fork of the Shenandoah,--they were not only entirely beyond my descriptive powers, but were enough to transport me with ecstasy.

At New Market we found peach-trees that had been in bloom since the tenth of April, and fields green with a magnificent growth of wheat. Just south of the village, on the banks of Smith's Creek, at the foot of the Massanutten range of mountains, and near where a road crosses through a gap to the valley that holds the South Fork of the Shenandoah, I encamped my brigade in the middle of an immense wheat-field, perhaps one third of a mile back from the road. On the road, and in front of my encampment, was a brick house, somewhat pretentious in size and finish. It surprised me that access to the house was effected only through an extensive cattle-yard; but upon further investigation I found the front door at the back side of the house. The back was formerly the front side, I was told; but many years ago the road was relocated, so that it runs now through the cow-yard; and although the owner had [157] been constantly intending to relocate the cow-yard, he had never accomplished it.

The house was owned by a man who was then away in the Rebel service with Jackson, as a quartermaster; but he had left to our protection his wife and three or four children, an old gentleman, a relative, once a practising physician of about eighty years of age, and a large family of negroes. Such was the human portion of the estate. Of cattle and horses, two of the former and one of the latter had been left by the Confederate quartermaster. The estate, I was told, comprised some fifteen hundred acres, much of it then covered with a rich growth of wheat, destined, alas! never to be gathered. The day after my arrival I received rather a polite invitation from the wife of our Rebel quartermaster to make her house my headquarters: the request was pressing, if not imploring. With over three thousand armed men — enemies they were consideredswarming around the premises of this defenceless woman, I easily understood this appeal for protection. I found the poor woman trembling in her bedroom, surrounded by her three boys, the eldest about fifteen and the youngest about five. It was in vain that she attempted to repress her tears, as she told me of harsh treatment by our troops as she sought in vain to prevent the old family horse from being taken away by a trooper of the cavalry arm. Her eldest boy, too, was choking down his grief, as if pride was battling with sorrow. Proud Virginians, never before humbled! lords and masters of domain and slaves, their word the law! I sympathized with them in their sorrows, ordered the horse to be returned to the old uncle, and not only gave assurance that I would protect them from further insult, but also that every wish in relation to the house should be carried out. To the poor woman I offered myself as a protector, in the absence of a husband who had fled and left her at our mercy. [158]

To comply with the wishes of the family, since no military requirement would suffer thereby, seemed my best course; so I installed myself and staff in the house, and enjoyed, during the few cheerless days we remained, the warmth of a huge fire of logs.

The sky which had looked so tenderly upon us on the day of our arrival was now covered with angry clouds, the sun was obscured, and we remained inactive under the chill of a snow-storm. Enjoyment out-of-doors was impossible; while entertainment within was confined to the study of a coarse print of George Washington, in which, upon this occasion, the Father of his Country looked uncommonly placid. An old piano, some ancient novels, a few books of old operas, prints of French republican heroes in childhood,--all were tried in vain: we fell back upon the old doctor. This old gentleman of eighty insisted upon it that we had brought Northern storms with us; all of which he lamented as he saw the white snow-flakes nestling gently within and around the blossoms of his peach-trees. Such a good-natured old gentleman as he was, it was impossible to get angry with him when he insisted, with a good-natured smile, that McClellan would be whipped on the peninsula; that he hoped for and did not for a moment doubt it. But though under my protection I was sorry sometimes to see the “grim-visaged front of war” overspread the face of our otherwise kind hostess; for she was very rebellious, as one might well imagine. I think it quite possible she objected to a little entertainment I gave the negroes. It was this. Never doubting from the outset that it was the right as well as duty of our armies to declare to the Southern slaves we found around us that they were forever free, I sent word to all the negroes that had called my hostess mistress to come at a certain hour into my office, the best parlor of my Rebel quartermaster. [159] I think a few outsiders joined them, for the line extended across the room, and there were more than I remembered to have seen around the place. What a sight! what an hour! Steadfastly, though in apathy, this motley gang of dark and ragged creatures gazed at me in wonder. The gray-haired uncle, the wrinkled auntie, the young, the middle-aged,--there they were, to hear from my lips the word their too-long-enslaved faculties could hardly appreciate. “I have sent for you,” I said, “to tell you that from to-day, for all your lives, you are free. You belong to no one, you need work for no one unless you wish.” I paused and waited; but there was no movement, not a word in reply. “Wherever,” I continued, “our armies go, we shall set all the slaves free; and now that we are here, you are forever hereafter your own masters.” Still, not a word was uttered; but instead thereof there was an anxious, earnest, painful look of inquiry, as if the mind could not grasp the subject. “Can you say nothing,” I asked, “can you do nothing, to show that you are glad? Can't you even turn a summersault in reply?” For a moment there was hesitation; and then, from the gray-haired old darky at the end to one younger and more agile, “Go ober, George.” In the most solemn and matter-of-fact rendering of obedience to an order, down went “George's” head on the carpet, and over he flopped with an awkward thud. This was all; and thus with senses dull to all it meant the line filed out, each heart beating with some undefined sensation, as if a great joy were coming.

Truly, the hour of the negro's triumph had come at last. They had seen their master's glance of scorn at the threatened invasion; they had trembled before his imperious will, and in their ignorance had come to feel that none could withstand him. No wonder that they could not take it in. Here, in the very home of their toils, they had seen [160] the lordly slave-owner fleeing before the strong arm of a Northern force; they had seen those of whom they had heard nought but scoffs and jeers moving with their solid columns in terrible retribution over the blue ridges of their mountain confines, across the green fields in the valleys of the Shenandoah, into the homes of their owners, sitting as masters at their firesides, eating as masters at their tables, and protecting their wives and their children. Truly might the slave see the hour of his deliverance, and know that the hand of God was moving manifestly upon the waters. Since that day the light tread of our column has given place to a heavier tramp. Year after year the iron hoof of war has ploughed up that beautiful valley, until desolation marked it for its own. If the poor woman then sitting at the head of a table which was surrounded by myself and my staff still lives, she will remember that in those early days of 1862 I said to her, “Your people are mad; they are raising a storm that will not subside. To-day we are taking your food and your cattle; but to-morrow, so far does the living force of powerful armies outrun our realizations, to-morrow it may be your homes.” Let the blackened walls of the houses of the Shenandoah Valley be my witness.

But what had become of Jackson? We had rumors that he had turned off from the valley of the North Fork, and was somewhere in the ridges of the Blue Mountains to the eastward, and in communication with Lee around Richmond. The whole of the valley gave evidence of his ruthless flight. Bridges burned to impede our pursuit was a greater injury to the industry of the inhabitants than to us: it might retard, but it did not bar, our progress. I was astonished at the evidence of forced service required by the enemy from the citizens of this valley; the mountains were filled with Virginians escaping from forced levies. Wandering sadly along by the side of the creek, near my [161] encampment at New Market, I saw a poor white woman, followed by her children,--five little girls and a boy. In her arms she carried a baby; and behind her children followed the faithful dog. To my question, she answered that she was going to her sick brother. Her home was in the mountains; but her husband having been driven from his home by some of Jackson's men who were forcing recruits into his service, she could not live there without his help. “As soon as you come here to protect him,” said the woman, “he has promised to return home. What would I not give to see him!”

On the twenty-fifth of April, on Friday, we again moved with our whole force onward up the valley. Along by the base of the Massanutten range of mountains on our left, leaving our old friend the Shenandoah to the west, in which direction it runs to its sources in the North Mountains, we followed Smith's Creek until we reached Harrisonburg; and there encamped. We were eighteen miles from New Market, and about eighty from Winchester. At Harrisonburg we found that Jackson had changed his course. Having left the valley of the North Fork he had turned southeasterly, taking the main pike which runs to Gordonsville, distant about forty miles. At Gordonsville there was rail communication with Staunton, Richmond, and Alexandria. But Jackson had as usual encamped about twenty miles from us, and was now in the valley of the North Fork of the Shenandoah to the east of our mountain range, and on the east side of the Shenandoah, where the Gordonsville pike crosses that stream by a long covered bridge. Holding Harrisonburg with our cavalry and an advanced guard of infantry, we turned to follow him. For a few days our operations were confined to the usual skirmish with Jackson's rear-guard,--we advancing, the Rebels retreating. Thus we followed even through the [162] classic shades of Keezle and Magaughey towns to the east, around the base of the peaked mountain where the two valleys of the Shenandoah flow into one, along the pike to the bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah at Penn's Ferry, a distance of twenty miles from our main encampment at Harrisonburg. At this point Jackson, determined to burn the bridge if we attempted to cross, had lined it with light kindling-wood, to ignite at the touch. As along the valley, so here there was constant picket-firing. During my only visit to the extreme outpost, where the Twentyeighth Regiment under Colonel Donelly was stationed, I saw one of his men — shot at his post by some expert and remorseless Rebel hunter — lying dead at the station. Once, however, the enemy failing to make the bridge in time, were overtaken by our cavalry, and prisoners were brought into Harrisonburg by General Hatch. One of the Rebel officers, being greatly annoyed at the triumphant tones of our men, turned to rebuke them, at which the storm began to rage with such violence that Hatch ordered the prisoner to maintain silence.

While my brigade was encamped in the field, I made my own headquarters within the house where dwelt the owner of the domain. She was an elderly matron of very strong secession proclivities, and given to lamentation over the destruction which three thousand soldiers brought to her fields. There were no fences left to divide tillage from pasture, or grain-fields from roads. When her complaints were loudest, I informed her of the capture of New Orleans, of which we had just heard through the War Department; enlightened her as to the condition of slave property, and that no restraint could be used if her slaves chose to leave her and follow us. Sometimes her replies were acrimonious, sometimes pitiful. Indeed, who could help feeling something akin to pity for these poor people bending under the [163] power of their conquerors. But with pity came also exultation, for scarcely a day passed that some stronghold was not wrested from traitors. All along our sea-coast, all along our inland rivers, at New Orleans, and in many places along the course of that mighty river the Mississippi, floated the old flag. The reduction of Yorktown we looked upon as an assured fact; so of Corinth. The army and the country gave thanks to God that the end seemed near; and a mightier feeling of exultation came over us, that questions which had troubled the country beyond endurance, questions which the wisest and best in our land could not solve, were now at rest forever,--slavery dead beyond restitution, and the insufferable arrogance and conceit of the Southern people being whipped out of them. Here was a strong Northern army holding forcible possession of Southern lands and mansions, replying to complaints that the people of the South would have it so, would have us come from the North to free their slaves, take their cattle, and reply to their lamentations by the question, “Do you like it?” and offer the consolation that the morrow might bring forth a greater sorrow, even a forfeiture of their lives and their lands. “Oh, anything to end this war!” was again and again the wailing reply. “Will you advise the laying down of arms and submission, to end it?” Then the flush of anger came, and the graceless temper cried, “No! Rather war to the bitter end than that.” “Then the question becomes not one of secession, but subjugation,” I answered. “We are determined to whip — yes, subjugate -you, if we must! and perhaps the strength we put forth, the courage we display, will make the South more willing to live with a people you once affected to despise, but whom now you will find as brave as yourselves. The end may not be yet, may not be until your towns and cities are deserted save by women and old men, your property [164] destroyed by the passage of armies, your communications broken up, your bridges and roads obliterated, your country flooded with a worthless currency, and your children pressed into service, until every mother has an aching heart and every household an absent son. We could now make peace with you upon such terms that both North and South could mutually rejoice; but, as it is, we must press on. Let your achievements be never so heroic, ours shall adorn the page of history with as proud successes, while the inspiration of our mothers, sisters, and homes shall equally with yours swell our hearts and nerve our arms with courage.”

While the main body of the Fifth Army Corps was at Harrisonburg, General Banks made his headquarters at New Market. Crossing the Massauutten range of mountains at a gap, a wide road leading from the North Fork valley of the Shenandoah eastwardly over the mountain into the valley of the South Fork afforded Jackson a splendid opportunity, if we were unguarded, of taking us in rear. This gap-road, before leaving the mountain on the eastern side, diverges into two branches, one of which crosses the South Fork of the Shenandoah at Columbia Bridge, the other at Massanutten town, and thence to Luray. Colonel Sullivan of Shields's division, who had been left to guard Columbia Bridge, informed Banks, about the first of May, that a deserter reported that on the thirtieth of April Jackson had moved with his whole force towards Harrisonburg; whence, he believed, he had returned and marched towards Port Republic. Tile deserter estimated his whole force to be about fifteen thousand men, composed of twelve or fifteen regiments commanded by Jackson, Taliaferro, Winder, and Ewell, and added that Jackson expected additional reinforcements. That Colonel Sullivan was in the same state of excitement as when at Strasburg was apparent from a despatch [165] received from him, dated at Columbia Bridge at 2.25 P. M., addressed by signal to General Banks, announcing that “Rebels drove in my pickets at Burnt Bridge and on Gordonsville road; started out reinforcements and am now driving them; will report fully.” Burnt Bridge lies south of Columbia Bridge, over which the road to Gordonsville and Richmond crosses the Shenandoah. Fearing that we would not fall into the little trap of moving to Staunton, against which McClellan warned Banks, it might be that Jackson was trying all approaches to our rear, lest he might not have the opportunity to crush us with reinforcements in his own good time. With the pass across the mountain well guarded, and our advance at least sixteen and a half miles southeast of Harrisonburg, even up to the Shenandoah at Conrad's Store, we were holding Jackson at arm's-length. What now was to be done? How would higher powers move in a concentration that should force the yet lingering life of rebeldom out of its ugly body? It seemed as if the gloom and uncertainty that had so recently covered everything as with a pall was being dispelled. Every day deserters came to us in their gray uniforms, to say that not more than half of Jackson's army would fight; that they were worn out with service, and had no idea of the cause or the object of the war; also that the privates of Jackson's army had heard of but a single victory gained by us, that of Fort Donelson; and this “one of their boys accidentally saw in a newspaper.” At this time, too, the Administration in divers ways gave out that the end was nigh; that the services of our troops would be required but for two or three months longer. An Indiana regiment, offered and enlisted but for one year, the Government were unwilling to accept, and wished to muster it out at once; but finally declared that it was willing to keep it for sixty or ninety days longer,--and that was as long, said Secretary Stanton, [166] as the Government would want any troops. “When Yorktown falls, the end has come,” was the cry. I think the feeling that he had better strike now while he was here, suggested to one of the officers of the Second Massachusetts to call upon me upon “very important business,” as he said; which turned out to be that he was engaged to be married to a young lady of Winchester, and wished a leave of absence for six days that he might go back then and be married. He had met his love for the first time at a house in that town, where I had sent him in command of a guard. He went, he saw, and was conquered: he a Yankee, she a Virginian; he Union, she a Rebel. I gave this officer a leave of absence, and he was married. It was said at this time in the regiment that I had prophesied for the coming nineteenth of July that I would march the Second Regiment up State Street in Boston; and in a letter stating the prophecy I added, “Verily, it looks so.”

Whether on the main, the middle, or the back road of that lovely Shenandoah Valley, rich with green fields stretching off for miles and miles, wherever our foragers wandered, we were the first to cull dainties from rich farms, then looking very unlike the starvation and misery which afterwards befell the people. While we were at Harrisonburg, purchases were made of two chickens, two ducks, one turkey, two dozen eggs, and three pounds of butter,--all for $1.50 in specie, which was then equal to $5.00 in Rebel money. At the sight of silver and gold the eyes of the farmers opened wide, and they clutched our quarters as a drowning man would a straw; for they had not seen any silver, they said, since April of 1861. And yet their foolish pride or faith, or something worse, made them contend that their shinplasters were as good as our greenbacks,--and not only profess it but act up to it, to the manifest advantage of one rather smart officer, who [167] bought a twenty-dollar Confederate note for twelve dollars in silver, and then exchanged it with an eager secessionist in town for a twenty-dollar bill in our currency. The sutlers realized great profits from this traffic; while some of them added horse-stealing to the business, and so contrived to keep the wolf from the door for a while, though there is but little doubt that Ashby and Moseby finally got even with the sutlers, and restored more to Virginia than she lost. It was a cause of complaint among some of our officers that I always paid “every one of these secesh” for what I took from them; though it was declared that I more than compensated for it by setting free every negro I came across.

While our occupation at Harrisonburg was drawing to a close, information was received from the Secretary of War that “Yorktown had been evacuated.” “Let the boys yell,” wrote General Williams to me in a note announcing this piece of news; and another, “that there are strong rumors about Richmond.”

Sunday came, the fourth of May, and brought General Banks unexpectedly to the front. He came to call together the general officers of his command, to discuss the practicability and wisdom of a movement against Jackson. Hardly had the subject been broached, when a despatch from the Secretary of War quenched the rising flame. We (Williams's division, with all the cavalry and artillery) were directed to return to Strasburg, while Shields with his division was ordered to cross the Blue Ridge and join McDowell at Fredericksburg. The change was to take place immediately; we were to move at daylight on the return to New Market. The glories of a campaign in the valley, so full of promise, were fading.

During the day and night of Sunday, preparations for the return were made. On Monday morning some movement [168] of the enemy, probably following up our rear-guard as it was withdrawn from the outpost and picket stations, gave rise to a rumor that Jackson was drawing near for a fight. General Williams wrote me a few hurried words confirming the report.3 As absurd as I then believed the rumor, unless Jackson had dropped down upon us from the clouds, I got my brigade in readiness for a movement; which turned out to be for marching, and not fighting. The unusual bustle which attended the preparation, however, affected the occupants of my headquarters differently. No doubt my splenetic landlady was overjoyed at the prospect of our departure, though she was and had been ever since our arrival apprehensive of the effect upon her slaves. A more miserable, watery, unhealthy cellar than the halfunderground basement where I had often seen an unhappy slave-woman, I had not before encountered. So sickly and feeble seemed this unhappy creature,--she was young, scarcely over thirty,--that I had spoken kindly, and encouraged her to leave such a home. Although she replied that she would go when we left, I thought no more of her until the confusion of our departure, when “Peggy” came to say,--

“I'm gwine wid ye.”

“Very well,” I replied, “come along.”

“No, but I can't go widout my chile,” she answered.

“Then bring it with you.”

“I can't, I hab n't got her.”

“Where is she?”

Ober dar at Miss--, she hab her.”

“Go and get her then, if you have time.”

“She won't gib her up to me.”

“What shall I do? I have no time now to send.”

“You jes gib me a writina, an' I'll go wid it.” [169]

“That won't do you any good; our troops are all leaving here; the people won't mind our writings.”

“Yase, it will,” insisted Peggy; “you jes gib me writina.”

Persuaded by her importunity, I scrawled off and signed with my name and official rank an order to Miss — to deliver over immediately one colored child, the daughter of said Peggy; and this on the pains and perils of disobedience. Then Peggy passed out of my mind; for new rumors came that Jackson was about attempting to seize the gap-road across the mountains, which connects the two valleys at New Market, the road where Colonel Sullivan's pickets were attacked on the Gordonsville pike. While our columns were hurrying along the road, my eyes fell upon my Peggy, keeping Ilp with the artillery, the wagons, and the columns of infantry, and bearing on her shoulders the brightest and most sparkling little pickaninny that was ever born to woman of African descent. I was surprised, and when I saw the mother's happiness, delighted With the child (given to her without any hesitation, she said) and a large bundle, about the size of the one that the fugitive slave-woman was formerly represented in pictorial advertisements in Southern papers as bearing, when she “ran away from the subscriber,” Peggy was fleeing from slavery, clinging to our guns and to the columns of our infantry for protection. Telling her to come to my camp when we halted for the night (she assured me she could keep up), I rode on, pondering on the amazing changes which time works in the field of human events; upon the fleeing fugitive, hiding in swamps and tracked by bloodhounds, to the fugitive fearless in the presence of ten thousand bayonets, glistening in the arms of ten thousand hated abolitionists,--for this was what we practically had become. I did not see Peggy again for two or three days; [170] for hardly had we arrived at New Market, hoping to make up for the want of rest on Sunday night and the exhausting march of twenty miles on Monday, when, the fright at headquarters continuing, we were ordered to tear ourselves away from the prospect of comfortable beds, and move out in the darkness, ascend the mountain, and cross to the valley of the North Fork of the Shenandoah on the eastern side of the range.

When Major Copeland brought the order from General Banks, he not only inspired the officers of the Second Massachusetts Regiment to throw off fatigue by promising a battle surely in the morning, but gave me the information in writing that it was reported Jackson had divided his force and had five thousand men on this side of the river (I suppose he referred to the Luray valley), and six thousand men the other,--and “if so,” adds Copeland, “one party may be destroyed by a timely movement.”

I left Banks's headquarters in New Market at twelve at night, with no more information of the purposes and probabilities of this march than I had when I entered, and with my weary column reached the top of the mountain at sunrise on the sixth of May. Here I halted for a moment to refresh the troops with the marvellous beauty of the scene. In the golden light we saw far below us in the valley apple, peach, and cherry trees in bloom, the rich color of the growing wheat, the green grass, and the lovely tints of the new verdure of the forest trees. My horse crushed most beautiful clusters of violets, growing on the hillside and by many mountain streams which flowed onward to swell the Shenandoah at our feet. Without long delay we pushed on for the foot of the mountain on the other (eastern) side, where we were promised a sight of the enemy. We reached the end of our long and toilsome night-march to find that it was a false alarm,--no enemy, [171] no prospect of any fight. So we fell down to deep slumbers: I had not closed my eyes for two nights. Here I published to my brigade the news of the evacuation of Yorktown. The men cheered on the sides of that magnificent old mountain with vociferous shouts. Save that I here tied a sutler to a tree and confiscated all his stock for selling liquor to my men, I accomplished nothing that tended to a result.

On the eighth of May, returning from the mountain, we again pitched our tents in New Market. I do not recall more sleepy and dreamy hours than for a few days were passed there while awaiting the order to return to Strasburg.

The official report of the evacuation by the enemy of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Va., we received on Sunday the eleventh of May, the anniversary of the day on which the Second Massachusetts Regiment was mustered into the service of the United States for three years or the war.

New Orleans, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Yorktown had been snatched from Rebel grasp, and we counted as surely upon Richmond to follow; so in noisy demonstrations with the bands we celebrated our anniversary, saddened by the reflection that to us had fallen only the task of holding Strasburg for the protection of the valley.

On the thirteenth of May Williams's division re-entered Strasburg. The roads, the bridges, the scenes, and the people were little changed; but the contrast between the advancing and retreating march was most noticeable. Now there was no pursuit, no ubiquitous Ashby: it was a dull, tame, dead-level of safety. The important bridge over the creek at Mount Jackson, which in fight and in flight on our advance Ashby had attempted to destroy, and which it was necessary to preserve to carry us from New Market to the rear, was saved to us somewhat by two telegraphic [172] operators armed with two sabres and three revolvers,4 and somewhat by the absence of the enemy. Although I made haste to relieve the gallant operators from their voluntary guard duty, I do not remember what message I sent to General Banks's assistant adjutant-general's clerk, by whom I was requested to make a report.5

In the middle of a vast clover-field just on the outskirts of the town my regiment, with the others of my brigade, were encamped. By orders from Washington we were to fortify Strasburg;6 therefore we did the best we could to throw up an incomplete field-work upon a hill in [173] the middle of the town and a long line of simple breastworks in the southerly part.

From the thirteenth to the twenty-third of May this not too exciting task furnished, with speculations upon the fall of Richmond, the whole staple of amusement. Again there was much grumbling and dissatisfaction among the officers of the Second Regiment; and here it culminated in a letter from them to the Secretary of War asking to be transferred to a more active field.7

Major Scott, of Colonel Murphy's Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania Regiment, suppressed his perturbed spirits and spent much of his pay in presents as testimonials to officers who met his approbation. Not content with having given superb swords to Generals Banks and Hamilton and to Major Copeland, the former's assistant adjutant-general, he now bent his energies towards a gift for the colonel of the Second Massachusetts, his then brigade commander; which, alas! never came to fruition, for Jackson soon made us think of other things. But we were acting without foreknowledge, and so gathered such comforts as were at hand. Peggy, my faithful negro woman, duly installed as cook, gave more satisfaction for money paid than had any of our compromises. Following on with the bright-eyed little “Topsy,” she had come to me at New Market to remain until I could transfer her Bostonward.

With direct rail communication with Washington, Strasburg began to take on an air of gayety. A travelling theatrical company furnished us with amusement; sutlers and traders, by day and by night overrun with custom, furnished us with supplies. The amount of public property at Strasburg was enormous. Since we had first passed [174] through it, a bountiful Government had piled up stores for clothing, feeding, moving, healing, and killing, until the ware-rooms positively groaned with the burden. Here, too, had been deposited, as in a safe ddp6t, all the superfluous transportation which Shields had abandoned.

In brigade drills, labor upon the field-works and defensive lines, and in rebuilding the bridges upon the railroads, the days wore on without incident or excitement until the time came to look again after our old antagonist Jackson, whom we left on the eastern bank of the South Fork of the Shenandoah, about sixteen and a half miles from Harrisonburg, at the entrance of the long covered wooden bridge, prepared for burning at a moment's notice. Everything there betokened flight. Banks was so far deceived that he had, in informing the Department of his advance to Harrisonburg, announced “that the Rebel General Jackson has abandoned the valley of Virginia permanently, and now is en route for Gordonsville by the way of the mountains.” The bridge where Banks left Jackson is on the direct road from Gordonsville to Harrisonburg. From Gordonsville to Richmond by rail is about sixty-two and a half miles, or three hours; while from Gordonsville to the bridge, by a good pike road across the Blue Ridge Mountains, through the Swift Run Gap, it is but about thirty miles.

1 Lieutenant H. B. Scott, Second Massachusetts Regiment, A. D. C.

2 Cooke's Life of Stonewall Jackson, p. 126.

3 Which turned out to be nothing more than a demonstration by Ashby.


From Mount Jackson, May 10, 1862.
To Maj.-Gen. N. P. Banks.
All the guards have been withdrawn from this place, and the bridge near here. As we would not like to see the bridge destroyed, and especially at this time, we have assumed command, and mustered all the force we can, consisting in all of five men, and will do the best we can to protect it with this small squad, who are armed with two sabres and three revolvers. We are very respectfully yours,

Hall and Lounsburg, Government operators.


Headquarters Department Shenandoah, New Market, Va., May 10, 1862.
Please report by bearer if the two companies detailed have been sent from your command. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. Morris Copeland, Maj. Vols. and Act. Adjt.-Gen. per Whittemore, Clerk.

6 Why the Government should have treated Front Royal as an outpost and Strasburg as the main place to be defended it is impossible to explain. Invited by General Banks, upon his accession to Patterson's command, to come to him at any and all times with such suggestions upon military affairs as I might wish to make, I took the liberty of advising him to move his main force to Front Royal, and thus holding a pass over the Blue Ridge so place himself upon his line of communications that his small force could not be surrounded by a larger one of the enemy. I besought him to apply for a change of orders to enable him to do this ; and Major Perkins, his adjutant-general, joined me in my intercessions. But Banks was immovable.

7 A reply to this letter, received after Jackson had driven our regiment out of the valley, declared that the exigencies of the service required thewriters to remain at Strasburg (within the valley).

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