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Talks with General J. A. Early. [from the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, September 22, 1902.]

Valley campaign and movement on Washington. Some thrilling incidents.

An interesting paper by Dr. Wm. B. Conway, of Company C, 4th Regiment, Virginia Cavalry—Excitement in Federal capital.

To the Editor of the Dispatch:
General Early's Shenandoah Valley campaigns of 1864 were most remarkable in many respects, and many unsatisfactory reports come to us through Confederate histories concerning these campaigns.

I have read a few of these magazine articles from Federal officers giving their side of the question, and at times at variance with many things that came under my own observation, as well as what I have heard from General Early's own lips.

During the latter years of his life the general spent most of his summers at the Yellow Sulphur Springs, in Montgomery county, Va., and he was frequently accompanied by General Beauregard, the hero of the first battle of Manassas. The old general was very fond of recounting to others his campaigns and battles. I remember of meeting him on several occasions at the Yellow Sulphur, and would sit for hours listening, while he discussed with General Beauregard and other visitors at the Springs the plans and manoeuvres of his many battles, especially those about his valley campaigns. It was there that I met for the first and last time that accomplished daughter of the Confederacy, Miss Winnie Davis. The general turned to me [251] on one occasion and said: ‘Conway, you lived in that section of the State, give me the names of different fords along the Rapidan river from Liberty Mills down to the Rappahannock.’ But before I could name them over, he commenced repeating their names, calling them as accurately as though he had the map laid out before him. His discussions were animating and enlivened by anecdotes. Those small sharp eyes would flash with enthusiasm and his face radiant with expressions of delight and ecstacy. He was a fine conversationalist. His language chaste and mingled with flashes of wit and humor. When on subjects of cruelty and inhumanity to our citizens in the valley by the Yankees, his language oftimes became more profane than sacred. He never indulged in extravagance, but was truthful and honest. General Robert E. Lee considered him one of his most staunch and trusted lieutenant-generals. His characteristics were those of a man of sternness and independence. One day, while in the valley, my regiment was on the march. We were on that famous turnpike road that runs from Harper's Ferry through the whole length of that beautiful valley of Virginia.

Our boys were unusually quiet, not even a song from those musically inclined. The day before Yankee barn-burners had been executed, and you would now and then hear in low tones of voice among the men, the remark: ‘Look out for retaliation by Sheridan.’ A little further on up the turnpike was met eight or ten brand new cannon, drawn by fresh horses. They came lumbering down the pike, urged on by the drivers. Our boys began to cheer, but being near the enemy we were called down. Just as we passed the last piece I noticed a large card had been tacked on the rear of the caisson, and on it the following, in big black letters: ‘To Sheridan in the care of Jubal Early.’ Early had been losing a good many pieces of artillery, and hence some wag had tacked on the card with the above inscription. On the 13th of June, soon after the Wilderness campaign, General Early had been made Lieutenant-General and placed in command of the Second Army Corps. On this date the corps left Gaines' Mill and marched towards the Blue Ridge to meet Hunter and Crook—Hunter came up the Shenandoah Valley with his command, and Crook came from the Kanawha by way of the Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs. They made a junction at Staunton, Va. Hunter defeated a small number of Confederates under Imboden and Jones at Piedmont, a small town not far from Port Republic. The Federals made their appearance near Lynchburg on June 17th, thus menacing Lee's rear and also his bases of [252] supplies. On the 18th of June, Early with his corps, formed a junction with Imboden and Jones near Lynchburg, and defeated Hunter, driving him in the direction of Salem, Va. Hunter had made an effort to cross the Blue Ridge at Rockfish gap, where the Virginia Central railroad ran through a tunnel in the mountain, but Jones and Imboden blocked his way.

While a student at Dinwiddie's school, near the tunnel, 1859-1860, I often spent my Saturdays in visiting this tunnel and the town of Waynesboro, just beyond the river. The boys would fish and hunt up and down the Shenandoah river as low down as Weyer's Cave. Early followed him up, through Liberty, from there to Big Lick (now Roanoke City), through Salem, and capturing a portion of his wagon train near Hanging Rock as he escaped into the mountains west of the valley. Early encamped on the night of the 23rd at Buchanan, and on the 24th at Buffalo creek. On the 25th he reached Lexington, where he divided his command; marching one part of it by way of Brownsburg, and the other by Midway, and met at Staunton, where it rested on the 27th. According to instructions of General Lee, on the 28th of June Early marched down the Shenandoah Valley with the most of his command. The old soldiers, who were tired and worn out by long marches, badly shod, and on short rations, were now animated and inspired by old familiar scenes along this beautiful valley and among its hospitable people.

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