The Burial of the Guns
Thomas Nelson Page
Part 1 out of 3
The Burial of the Guns
by Thomas Nelson Page [Virginian Author -- 1853-1922.]
[Note on text: Italicized words or phrases are capitalized.
Some obvious errors have been corrected. This etext is transcribed
from the 1894 edition published in New York.]
The Burial of the Guns
by Thomas Nelson Page
To My Wife
My Cousin Fanny
The Burial of the Guns
The Gray Jacket of "No. 4"
Miss Dangerlie's Roses
How the Captain made Christmas
My Cousin Fanny
We do not keep Christmas now as we used to do in old Hanover.
We have not time for it, and it does not seem like the same thing.
Christmas, however, always brings up to me my cousin Fanny;
I suppose because she always was so foolish about Christmas.
My cousin Fanny was an old maid; indeed, to follow St. Paul's turn of phrase,
she was an old maid of the old maids. No one who saw her a moment
could have doubted it. Old maids have from most people a feeling rather akin
to pity -- a hard heritage. They very often have this feeling from the young.
This must be the hardest part of all -- to see around them friends,
each "a happy mother of children," little ones responding to affection
with the sweet caresses of childhood, whilst any advances that they,
their aunts or cousins, may make are met with indifference or condescension.
My cousin Fanny was no exception. She was as proud as Lucifer;
yet she went through life -- the part that I knew of -- bearing the pity
of the great majority of the people who knew her.
She lived at an old place called "Woodside", which had been in the family
for a great many years; indeed, ever since before the Revolution.
The neighborhood dated back to the time of the colony,
and Woodside was one of the old places. My cousin Fanny's grandmother
had stood in the door of her chamber with her large scissors in her hand,
and defied Tarleton's red-coated troopers to touch the basket
of old communion-plate which she had hung on her arm.
The house was a large brick edifice, with a pyramidal roof, covered with moss,
small windows, porticos with pillars somewhat out of repair, a big, high hall,
and a staircase wide enough to drive a gig up it if it could have turned
the corners. A grove of great forest oaks and poplars densely shaded it,
and made it look rather gloomy; and the garden, with the old graveyard
covered with periwinkle at one end, was almost in front, while the side
of the wood -- a primeval forest, from which the place took its name --
came up so close as to form a strong, dark background. During the war
the place, like most others in that neighborhood, suffered greatly,
and only a sudden exhibition of spirit on Cousin Fanny's part saved it
from a worse fate. After the war it went down; the fields were poor,
and grew up in briers and sassafras, and the house was too large
and out of repair to keep from decay, the ownership of it being divided
between Cousin Fanny and other members of the family. Cousin Fanny had
no means whatever, so that it soon was in a bad condition.
The rest of the family, as they grew up, went off, compelled by necessity
to seek some means of livelihood, and would have taken Cousin Fanny too if she
would have gone; but she would not go. They did all they could for her,
but she preferred to hang around the old place, and to do what she could
with her "mammy", and "old Stephen", her mammy's husband, who alone remained
in the quarters. She lived in a part of the house, locking up the rest,
and from time to time visited among her friends and relatives,
who always received her hospitably. She had an old piece of a mare
(which I think she had bought from Stephen), with one eye, three legs,
and no mane or tail to speak of, and on which she lavished,
without the least perceptible result, care enough to have kept a stable
in condition. In a freak of humor she named this animal "Fashion",
after a noted racer of the old times, which had been raised in the county,
and had beaten the famous Boston in a great race. She always spoke of "Fash"
with a tone of real tenderness in her voice, and looked after her,
and discussed her ailments, which were always numerous, as if she had been
a delicate child. Mounted on this beast, with her bags and bundles,
and shawls and umbrella, and a long stick or pole, she used occasionally
to make the tour of the neighborhood, and was always really welcomed;
because, notwithstanding the trouble she gave, she always stirred things up.
As was said once, you could no more have remained dull where she was
than you could have dozed with a chinkapin-burr down your back.
Her retort was that a chinkapin-burr might be used to rouse people
from a lethargy (she had an old maid's tongue). By the younger members
of the family she was always welcomed, because she furnished so much fun.
She nearly always fetched some little thing to her host -- not her hostess --
a fowl, or a pat of butter from her one old cow, or something of the kind,
because, she said, "Abigail had established the precedent, and she was
`a woman of good understanding' -- she understood that feeding and flattery
were the way to win men." She would sometimes have a chicken in a basket
hung on the off pummel of her old saddle, because at times she fancied
she could not eat anything but chicken soup, and she did "not wish to
give trouble." She used to give trouble enough; for it generally turned out
that she had heard some one was sick in the neighborhood,
and she wanted the soup carried to her. I remember how mad Joe got
because she made him go with her to carry a bucket of soup
to old Mrs. Ronquist.
Cousin Fanny had the marks of an old maid. She was thin ("scrawny" we used
to call her, though I remember now she was quite erect until she grew feeble);
her features were fine; her nose was very straight; her hair was brown;
and her eyes, which were dark, were weak, so that she had often to wear
a green shade. She used to say herself that they were "bad eyes".
They had been so ever since the time when she was a young girl,
and there had been a very bad attack of scarlet fever at her home,
and she had caught it. I think she caught a bad cold with it --
sitting up nursing some of the younger children, perhaps --
and it had settled in her eyes. She was always very liable to cold.
I believe she had a lover then or about that time; but her mother had died
not long before, and she had some notion of duty to the children,
and so discarded him. Of course, as every one said, she'd much better
have married him. I do not suppose he ever could have addressed her.
She never would admit that he did, which did not look much like it.
She was once spoken of in my presence as "a sore-eyed old maid" --
I have forgotten who said it. Yet I can now recall occasions when her eyes,
being "better", appeared unusually soft, and, had she not been an old maid,
would sometimes have been beautiful -- as, for instance, occasionally,
when she was playing at the piano in the evenings before the candles
were lighted. I recollect particularly once when she was singing
an old French love-song. Another time was when on a certain occasion
some one was talking about marriages and the reasons which led to
or prevented them. She sat quite still and silent, looking out of the window,
with her thin hands resting in her lap. Her head was turned away
from most of the people, but I was sitting where I could see her,
and the light of the evening sky was on her face. It made her look very soft.
She lifted up her eyes, and looked far off toward the horizon.
I remember it recalled to me, young as I was, the speech I had heard some one
once make when I was a little boy, and which I had thought so ridiculous,
that "when she was young, before she caught that cold, she was
almost beautiful." There was an expression on her face that made me think
she ought always to sit looking out of the window at the evening sky.
I believe she had brought me some apples that day when she came,
and that made me feel kindly toward her. The light on her hair
gave it a reddish look, quite auburn. Presently, she withdrew her eyes
from the sky, and let them fall into her lap with a sort of long,
sighing breath, and slowly interlaced her fingers. The next second
some one jocularly fired this question at her: "Well, Cousin Fanny,
give us your views," and her expression changed back to that which
she ordinarily wore.
"Oh, my views, like other people's, vary from my practice," she said.
"It is not views, but experiences, which are valuable in life.
When I shall have been married twice I will tell you."
"While there's life there's hope, eh?" hazarded some one;
for teasing an old maid, in any way, was held perfectly legitimate.
"Yes, indeed," and she left the room, smiling, and went up-stairs.
This was one of the occasions when her eyes looked well. There were others
that I remember, as sometimes when she was in church; sometimes when
she was playing with little children; and now and then when,
as on that evening, she was sitting still, gazing out of the window.
But usually her eyes were weak, and she wore the green shade,
which gave her face a peculiar pallor, making her look old,
and giving her a pained, invalid expression.
Her dress was one of her peculiarities. Perhaps it was because
she made her clothes herself, without being able to see very well.
I suppose she did not have much to dress on. I know she used to
turn her dresses, and change them around several times. When she had
any money she used to squander it, buying dresses for Scroggs's girls
or for some one else. She was always scrupulously neat,
being quite old-maidish. She said that cleanliness was next to godliness
in a man, and in a woman it was on a par with it. I remember once
seeing a picture of her as a young girl, as young as Kitty,
dressed in a soft white dress, with her hair down over her ears,
and some flowers in her dress -- that is, it was said to be she;
but I did not believe it. To be sure, the flowers looked like it.
She always would stick flowers or leaves in her dress, which was thought
quite ridiculous. The idea of associating flowers with an old maid!
It was as hard as believing she ever was the young girl. It was not,
however, her dress, old and often queer and ill-made as it used to be,
that was the chief grievance against her. There was a much stronger ground
of complaint; she had NERVES! The word used to be strung out
in pronouncing it, with a curve of the lips, as "ner-erves".
I don't remember that she herself ever mentioned them;
that was the exasperating part of it. She would never say a word;
she would just close her thin lips tight, and wear a sort of ill look,
as if she were in actual pain. She used to go up-stairs, and shut the door
and windows tight, and go to bed, and have mustard-plasters on her temples
and the back of her neck; and when she came down, after a day or two,
she would have bright red spots burnt on her temples and neck,
and would look ill. Of course it was very hard not to be exasperated at this.
Then she would creep about as if merely stepping jarred her;
would put on a heavy blue veil, and wrap her head up in a shawl,
and feel along by the chairs till she got to a seat, and drop back in it,
gasping. Why, I have even seen her sit in the room, all swathed up,
and with an old parasol over her head to keep out the light,
or some such nonsense, as we used to think. It was too ridiculous to us,
and we boys used to walk heavily and stumble over chairs -- "accidentally",
of course -- just to make her jump. Sometimes she would even start up
and cry out. We had the incontestable proof that it was all "put on";
for if you began to talk to her, and got her interested,
she would forget all about her ailments, and would run on and talk and laugh
for an hour, until she suddenly remembered, and sank back again
in her shawls and pains.
She knew a great deal. In fact, I recall now that she seemed to know
more than any woman I have ever been thrown with, and if she had not been
an old maid, I am bound to admit that her conversation would have been
the most entertaining I ever knew. She lived in a sort of atmosphere
of romance and literature; the old writers and their characters
were as real to her as we were, and she used to talk about them to us
whenever we would let her. Of course, when it came from an old maid,
it made a difference. She was not only easily the best French scholar
in our region, where the ladies all knew more or less of French,
but she was an excellent Latin scholar, which was much less common.
I have often lain down before the fire when I was learning my Latin lesson,
and read to her, line by line, Caesar or Ovid or Cicero, as the book
might be, and had her render it into English almost as fast as I read.
Indeed, I have even seen Horace read to her as she sat
in the old rocking-chair after one of her headaches, with her eyes bandaged,
and her head swathed in veils and shawls, and she would turn it into
not only proper English, but English with a glow and color and rhythm
that gave the very life of the odes. This was an exercise we boys all liked
and often engaged in -- Frank, and Joe, and Doug, and I, and even old Blinky
-- for, as she used to admit herself, she was always worrying us
to read to her (I believe I read all of Scott's novels to her).
Of course this translation helped us as well as gratified her.
I do not remember that she was ever too unwell to help us in this way
except when she was actually in bed. She was very fond of us boys,
and was always ready to take our side and to further our plans
in any way whatever. We would get her to steal off with us,
and translate our Latin for us by the fire. This, of course, made us
rather fond of her. She was so much inclined to take our part and to help us
that I remember it used to be said of her as a sort of reproach,
"Cousin Fanny always sides with the boys." She used to say it was because
she knew how worthless women were. She would say this sort of thing herself,
but she was very touchy about women, and never would allow any one else
to say anything about them. She had an old maid's temper. I remember that
she took Doug up short once for talking about "old maids". She said that
for her part she did not mind it the least bit; but she would not allow him
to speak so of a large class of her sex which contained some of the best women
in the world; that many of them performed work and made sacrifices that
the rest of the world knew nothing about. She said the true word for them
was the old Saxon term "spinster"; that it proved that they performed
the work of the house, and that it was a term of honor of which she was proud.
She said that Christ had humbled himself to be born of a Virgin, and that
every woman had this honor to sustain. Of course such lectures as that
made us call her an old maid all the more. Still, I don't think
that being mischievous or teasing her made any difference with her.
Frank used to worry her more than any one else, even than Joe,
and I am sure she liked him best of all. That may perhaps have been
because he was the best-looking of us. She said once that he reminded her
of some one she used to know a long time before, when she was young.
That must have been a long time before, indeed. He used to
tease the life out of her.
She was extraordinarily credulous -- would believe anything on earth
anyone told her, because, although she had plenty of humor,
she herself never would deviate from the absolute truth a moment,
even in jest. I do not think she would have told an untruth to save her life.
Well, of course we used to play on her to tease her. Frank would tell her
the most unbelievable and impossible lies: such as that he thought he saw
a mouse yesterday on the back of the sofa she was lying on
(this would make her bounce up like a ball), or that he believed he heard --
he was not sure -- that Mr. Scroggs (the man who had rented her old home)
had cut down all the old trees in the yard, and pulled down the house because
he wanted the bricks to make brick ovens. This would worry her excessively
(she loved every brick in the old house, and often said she would rather live
in the kitchen there than in a palace anywhere else), and she would get
into such a state of depression that Frank would finally have to tell her
that he was just "fooling her".
She used to make him do a good deal of waiting on her in return,
and he was the one she used to get to dress old Fashion's back
when it was raw, and to put drops in her eyes. He got quite expert at it.
She said it was a penalty for his worrying her so.
She was the great musician of the connection. This is in itself
no mean praise; for it was the fashion for every musical gift among the girls
to be cultivated, and every girl played or sang more or less, some of them
very well. But Cousin Fanny was not only this. She had a way of playing
that used to make the old piano sound different from itself;
and her voice was almost the sweetest I ever heard except one or two
on the stage. It was particularly sweet in the evenings,
when she sat down at the piano and played. She would not always do it;
she either felt "not in the mood", or "not sympathetic", or some such thing.
None of the others were that way; the rest could play just as well
in the glare of day as in the twilight, and before one person as another;
it was, we all knew, just one of Cousin Fanny's old-maid crotchets.
When she sat down at the piano and played, her fussiness was all forgotten;
her first notes used to be recognized through the house,
and people used to stop what they were doing, and come in. Even the children
would leave off playing, and come straggling in, tiptoeing as they crossed
the floor. Some of the other performers used to play a great deal louder,
but we never tiptoed when they played. Cousin Fanny would sit at the piano
looking either up or right straight ahead of her, or often with
her eyes closed (she never looked at the keys), and the sound used to rise
from under her long, thin fingers, sometimes rushing and pouring forth
like a deep roar, sometimes ringing out clear like a band of bugles,
making the hair move on the head and giving strange tinglings down the back.
Then we boys wanted to go forth in the world on fiery, black chargers,
like the olden knights, and fight giants and rescue beautiful ladies and
poor women. Then again, with her eyes shut, the sound would almost die away,
and her fingers would move softly and lingeringly as if they loved
the touch of the keys, and hated to leave them; and the sound would come from
away far off, and everything would grow quiet and subdued, and the perfume
of the roses out of doors would steal in on the air, and the soft breezes
would stir the trees, and we were all in love, and wanted to see
somebody that we didn't see. And Cousin Fanny was not herself any longer,
but we imagined some one else was there. Sometimes she suddenly began to sing
(she sang old songs, English or French); her voice might be weak
(it all depended on her whims; SHE said, on her health), in that case
she always stopped and left the piano; or it might be "in condition".
When it was, it was as velvety and mellow as a bell far off,
and the old ballads and chansons used to fill the twilight.
We used even to forget then that she was an old maid. Now and then
she sang songs that no one else had ever heard. They were her own;
she had composed both the words and the air. At other times
she sang the songs of others to her own airs. I remember the first time
I ever heard of Tennyson was when, one evening in the twilight,
she sang his echo song from "The Princess". The air was her own,
and in the refrain you heard perfectly the notes of the bugle,
and the echoes answering, "Dying, dying, dying." Boy as I was,
I was entranced, and she answered my enthusiasm by turning
and repeating the poem. I have often thought since how musical her voice was
as she repeated
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow forever and forever.
She had a peculiarly sentimental temperament. As I look back at it all now,
she was much given to dwelling upon old-time poems and romances,
which we thought very ridiculous in any one, especially in a spinster
of forty odd. She would stop and talk about the branch of a tree
with the leaves all turning red or yellow or purple in the common way
in which, as everyone knows, leaves always turn in the fall;
or even about a tangle of briers, scarlet with frost, in a corner
of an old worm-fence, keeping us waiting while she fooled around a brier patch
with old Blinky, who would just as lief have been in one place as another,
so it was out of doors; and even when she reached the house
she would still carry on about it, worrying us by telling over again
just how the boughs and leaves looked massed against the old gray fence,
which she could do till you could see them precisely as they were.
She was very aggravating in this way. Sometimes she would even take
a pencil or pen and a sheet of paper for old Blinky, and reproduce it.
She could not draw, of course, for she was not a painter; all she could do
was to make anything look almost just like it was.
There was one thing about her which excited much talk; I suppose it was only
a piece of old-maidism. Of course she was religious. She was really
very good. She was considered very high church. I do not think,
from my recollection of her, that she really was, or, indeed, that she
could have been; but she used to talk that way, and it was said that she was.
In fact, it used to be whispered that she was in danger of becoming
a Catholic. I believe she had an aunt that was one, and she had visited
several times in Norfolk and Baltimore, where it was said there were
a good many. I remember she used to defend them, and say she knew
a great many very devout ones. And she admitted that she sometimes went
to the Catholic church, and found it devotional; the choral service, she said,
satisfied something in her soul. It happened to be in the evening
that she was talking about this. She sat down at the piano,
and played some of the Gregorian chants she had heard, and it had
a soothing influence on everyone. Even Joe, the fidgetiest of all,
sat quite still through it. She said that some one had said it was
the music that the angels sing in heaven around the great white throne,
and there was no other sacred music like it. But she played another thing
that evening which she said was worthy to be played with it.
It had some chords in it that I remembered long afterward. Years afterward
I heard it played the same way in the twilight by one who is a blessed saint
in heaven, and may be playing it there now. It was from Chopin.
She even said that evening, under the impulse of her enthusiasm,
that she did not see, except that it might be abused, why the crucifix
should not be retained by all Christian churches, as it enabled some persons
not gifted with strong imaginations to have a more vivid realization
of the crucified Saviour. This, of course, was going too far,
and it created considerable excitement in the family, and led to
some very serious talk being given her, in which the second commandment
figured largely. It was considered as carrying old-maidism to
an extreme length. For some time afterward she was rather discountenanced.
In reality, I think what some said was true: it was simply
that she was emotional, as old maids are apt to be. She once said
that many women have the nun's instinct largely developed,
and sigh for the peace of the cloister.
She seemed to be very fond of artists. She had the queerest tastes,
and had, or had had when she was young, one or two friends who, I believe,
claimed to be something of that kind; she used to talk about them
to old Blinky. But it seemed to us from what she said that artists
never did any work; just spent their time lounging around, doing nothing,
and daubing paint on their canvas with brushes like a painter,
or chiselling and chopping rocks like a mason. One of these friends of hers
was a young man from Norfolk who had made a good many things.
He was killed or died in the war; so he had not been quite ruined;
was worth something anyhow as a soldier. One of his things was a Psyche,
and Cousin Fanny used to talk a good deal about it; she said it was fine,
was a work of genius. She had even written some verses about it.
She repeated them to me once, and I wrote them down. Here they are:
To Galt's Psyche.
Well art thou called the soul;
For as I gaze on thee,
My spirit, past control,
Springs up in ecstasy.
Thou canst not be dead stone;
For o'er thy lovely face,
Softer than music's tone,
I see the spirit's grace.
The wild aeolian lyre
Is but a silken string,
Till summer winds inspire,
And softest music bring.
Psyche, thou wast but stone
Till his inspiring came:
The sculptor's hand alone
Made not that soul-touched frame.
They have lain by me for years, and are pretty good for one who didn't write.
I think, however, she was young when she addressed them to the
"soul-touched" work of the young sculptor, who laid his genius and everything
at Virginia's feet. They were friends, I believe, when she was a girl,
before she caught that cold, and her eyes got bad.
Among her eccentricities was her absurd cowardice. She was afraid of cows,
afraid of horses, afraid even of sheep. And bugs, and anything that crawled,
used to give her a fit. If we drove her anywhere, and the horses cut up
the least bit, she would jump out and walk, even in the mud;
and I remember once seeing her cross the yard, where a young cow
that had a calf asleep in the weeds, over in a corner beyond her,
started toward it at a little trot with a whimper of motherly solicitude.
Cousin Fanny took it into her head that the cow was coming at her,
and just screamed, and sat down flat on the ground, carrying on
as if she were a baby. Of course, we boys used to tease her,
and tell her the cows were coming after her. You could not help teasing
anybody like that.
I do not see how she managed to do what she did when the enemy got to Woodside
in the war. That was quite remarkable, considering what a coward she was.
During 1864 the Yankees on a raid got to her house one evening in the summer.
As it happened, a young soldier, one of her cousins (she had no end
of cousins), had got a leave of absence, and had come there sick with fever
just the day before (the house was always a sort of hospital).
He was in the boys' room in bed when the Yankees arrived, and they were
all around the house before she knew it. She went downstairs to meet them.
They had been informed by one of the negroes that Cousin Charlie was there,
and they told her that they wanted him. She told them they could not get him.
They asked her, "Why? Is he not there?" (I heard her tell of it once.)
"You know, I thought when I told them they could not get him
that they would go away, but when they asked me if he was not there,
of course I could not tell them a story; so I said I declined to answer
impertinent questions. You know poor Charlie was at that moment
lying curled up under the bed in the boys' room with a roll of carpet
a foot thick around him, and it was as hot as an oven. Well, they insisted
on going through the house, and I let them go all through the lower stories;
but when they started up the staircase I was ready for them.
I had always kept, you know, one of papa's old horse-pistols as a protection.
Of course, it was not loaded. I would not have had it loaded
for anything in the world. I always kept it safely locked up,
and I was dreadfully afraid of it even then. But you have no idea what a
moral support it gave me, and I used to unlock the drawer every afternoon
to see if it was still there all right, and then lock it again,
and put the key away carefully. Well, as it happened, I had just been
looking at it -- which I called `inspecting my garrison'. I used to feel
just like Lady Margaret in Tillietudlam Castle. Well, I had just been
looking at it that afternoon when I heard the Yankees were coming,
and by a sudden inspiration -- I cannot tell for my life how I did it --
I seized the pistol, and hid it under my apron. I held on to it
with both hands, I was so afraid of it, and all the time those wretches
were going through the rooms down-stairs I was quaking with terror.
But when they started up the stairs I had a new feeling.
I knew they were bound to get poor Charlie if he had not melted and run away,
-- no, he would never have run away; I mean evaporated, --
and I suddenly ran up the stairway a few steps before them, and,
hauling out my big pistol, pointed it at them, and told them
that if they came one step higher I would certainly pull the trigger.
I could not say I would shoot, for it was not loaded. Well, do you know,
they stopped! They stopped dead still. I declare I was so afraid
the old pistol would go off, though, of course, I knew it was not loaded,
that I was just quaking. But as soon as they stopped, I began to attack.
I remembered my old grandmother and her scissors, and, like General Jackson,
I followed up my advantage. I descended the steps, brandishing my pistol
with both hands, and abusing them with all my might. I was so afraid
they might ask if it was loaded. But they really thought
I would shoot them (you know men have not liked to be slain by a woman
since the time of Abimelech), and they actually ran down the steps,
with me after them, and I got them all out of the house.
Then I locked the door and barred it, and ran up-stairs
and had such a cry over Charlie. [That was like an old maid.]
Afterwards they were going to burn the house, but I got hold of their colonel,
who was not there at first, and made him really ashamed of himself;
for I told him we were nothing but a lot of poor defenceless women
and a sick boy. He said he thought I was right well defended, as I had held
a company at bay. He finally promised that if I would give him some music
he would not go up-stairs. So I paid that for my ransom,
and a bitter ransom it was too, I can tell you, singing for a Yankee!
But I gave him a dose of Confederate songs, I promise you. He asked me
to sing the `Star Spangled Banner'; but I told him I would not do it
if he burnt the house down with me in it -- though it was inspired
by my cousin, Armistead. Then he asked me to sing `Home, Sweet Home',
and I did that, and he actually had tears in his eyes -- the hypocrite!
He had very fine eyes, too. I think I did sing it well, though.
I cried a little myself, thinking of the old house being so nearly burnt.
There was a young doctor there, a surgeon, a really nice-looking fellow
for a Yankee; I made him feel ashamed of himself, I tell you.
I told him I had no doubt he had a good mother and sister up at home,
and to think of his coming and warring on poor women. And they really
placed a guard over the house for me while they were there."
This she actually did. With her old empty horse-pistol she cleared the house
of the mob, and then vowed that if they burned the house she would burn up
in it, and finally saved it by singing "Home, Sweet Home", for the colonel.
She could not have done much better even if she had not been an old maid.
I did not see much of her after I grew up. I moved away from the old county.
Most others did the same. It had been desolated by the war,
and got poorer and poorer. With an old maid's usual crankiness
and inability to adapt herself to the order of things,
Cousin Fanny remained behind. She refused to come away; said, I believe,
she had to look after the old place, mammy, and Fash, or some such nonsense.
I think she had some idea that the church would go down, or that
the poor people around would miss her, or something equally unpractical.
Anyhow, she stayed behind, and lived for quite awhile
the last of her connection in the county. Of course all did the best
they could for her, and had she gone to live around with her relatives,
as they wished her to do, they would have borne with her and supported her.
But she said no; that a single woman ought never to live in any house
but her father's or her own; and we could not do anything with her.
She was so proud she would not take money as a gift from anyone,
not even from her nearest relatives.
Her health got rather poor -- not unnaturally, considering the way
she divided her time between doctoring herself and fussing after sick people
in all sorts of weather. With the fancifulness of her kind,
she finally took it into her head that she must consult a doctor in New York.
Of course, no one but an old maid would have done this;
the home doctors were good enough for everyone else. Nothing would do,
however, but she must go to New York; so, against the advice of everyone,
she wrote to a cousin who was living there to meet her,
and with her old wraps, and cap, and bags, and bundles, and stick,
and umbrella, she started. The lady met her; that is, went to meet her,
but failed to find her at the station, and supposing that she had not come,
or had taken some other railroad, which she was likely to do, returned home,
to find her in bed, with her "things" piled up on the floor.
Some gentleman had come across her in Washington, holding the right train
while she insisted on taking the wrong route, and had taken compassion on her,
and not only escorted her to New York, but had taken her and all her parcels
and brought her to her destination, where she had at once retired.
"He was a most charming man, my dear," she said to her cousin,
who told me of it afterward in narrating her eccentricities;
"and to think of it, I don't believe I had looked in a glass all day,
and when I got here, my cap had somehow got twisted around
and was perched right over my left ear, making me look a perfect fright.
He told me his name, but I have forgotten it, of course.
But he was such a gentleman, and to think of his being a Yankee!
I told him I hated all Yankees, and he just laughed, and did not mind
my stick, nor old umbrella, nor bundles a bit. You'd have thought my old cap
was a Parisian bonnet. I will not believe he was a Yankee."
Well, she went to see the doctor, the most celebrated in New York --
at the infirmary, of course, for she was too poor to go to his office;
one consultation would have taken every cent she had -- her cousin went
with her, and told me of it. She said that when she came downstairs to go
she never saw such a sight. On her head she had her blue cap,
and her green shade and her veil, and her shawl; and she had
the old umbrella and long stick, which she had brought from the country,
and a large pillow under her arm, because she "knew she was going to faint."
So they started out, but it was a slow procession. The noise and bustle
of the street dazed her, her cousin fancied, and every now and then she would
clutch her companion and declare she must go back or she should faint.
At every street-crossing she insisted upon having a policeman
to help her over, or, in default of that, she would stop some man and ask him
to escort her across, which, of course, he would do, thinking her crazy.
Finally they reached the infirmary, where there were already
a large number of patients, and many more came in afterwards.
Here she shortly established an acquaintance with several strangers.
She had to wait an hour or more for her turn, and then insisted
that several who had come in after her should go in before her,
because she said the poor things looked so tired. This would have
gone on indefinitely, her cousin said, if she had not finally dragged her
into the doctor's room. There the first thing that she did was to insist
that she must lie down, she was so faint, and her pillow was brought
into requisition. The doctor humored her, and waited on her.
Her friend started to tell him about her, but the doctor said,
"I prefer to have her tell me herself." She presently began to tell,
the doctor sitting quietly by listening and seeming to be much interested.
He gave her some prescription, and told her to come again next day,
and when she went he sent for her ahead of her turn, and after that
made her come to his office at his private house, instead of to the infirmary,
as at first. He turned out to be the surgeon who had been at her house
with the Yankees during the war. He was very kind to her.
I suppose he had never seen anyone like her. She used to go every day,
and soon dispensed with her friend's escort, finding no difficulty
in getting about. Indeed, she came to be known on the streets
she passed through, and on the cars she travelled by, and people guided her.
Several times as she was taking the wrong car men stopped her,
and said to her, "Madam, yours is the red car." She said, sure enough it was,
but she never could divine how they knew. She addressed the conductors as,
"My dear sir", and made them help her not only off, but quite to the sidewalk,
when she thanked them, and said "Good-by", as if she had been at home.
She said she did this on principle, for it was such a good thing
to teach them to help a feeble woman. Next time they would expect to do it,
and after a while it would become a habit. She said no one knew what terror
women had of being run over and trampled on.
She was, as I have said, an awful coward. She used to stand still
on the edge of the street and look up and down both ways ever so long,
then go out in the street and stand still, look both ways and then run back;
or as like as not start on and turn and run back after she was more
than half way across, and so get into real danger. One day, as she was
passing along, a driver had in his cart an old bag-of-bones of a horse,
which he was beating to make him pull up the hill, and Cousin Fanny,
with an old maid's meddlesomeness, pushed out into the street
and caught hold of him and made him stop, which of course collected a crowd,
and just as she was coming back a little cart came rattling along,
and though she was in no earthly danger, she ran so to get out of the way
of the horse that she tripped and fell down in the street and hurt herself.
So much for cowardice.
The doctor finally told her that she had nothing the matter with her,
except something with her nerves and, I believe, her spine,
and that she wanted company (you see she was a good deal alone).
He said it was the first law of health ever laid down, that it was not good
for man to be alone; that loneliness is a specific disease.
He said she wanted occupation, some sort of work to interest her,
and make her forget her aches and ailments. He suggested missionary work
of some kind. This was one of the worst things he could have told her,
for there was no missionary work to be had where she lived. Besides,
she could not have done missionary work; she had never done anything
in her life; she was always wasting her time pottering about the country
on her old horse, seeing sick old darkies or poor people in the pines.
No matter how bad the weather was, nor how deep the roads,
she would go prowling around to see some old "aunty" or "uncle",
in their out-of-the-way cabins, or somebody's sick child.
I have met her on old Fashion in the rain, toiling along in roads
that were knee-deep, to get the doctor to come to see some sick person,
or to get a dose of physic from the depot. How could she have done
any missionary work?
I believe she repaid the doctor for his care of her by sending him
a charity patient to look after -- Scroggs's eldest girl, who was
bedridden or something. Cousin Fanny had a fancy that she was musical.
I never knew how it was arranged. I think the doctor sent the money down
to have the child brought on to New York for him to see. I suppose
Cousin Fanny turned beggar, and asked him. I know she told him the child
was the daughter of "a friend" of hers (a curious sort of friend Scroggs was,
a drunken creature, who had done everything he could to pain her),
and she took a great deal of trouble to get her to the train,
lending old Fashion to haul her, which was a great deal more
than lending herself; and the doctor treated her in New York for three months
without any charge, till, I believe, the child got better.
Old maids do not mind giving people trouble.
She hung on at the old place as long as she could, but it had to be sold,
and finally she had to leave it; though, I believe, even after it was sold
she tried boarding for a while with Scroggs, the former tenant,
who had bought it. He treated her so badly that finally she had to leave,
and boarded around. I believe the real cause was she caught him ploughing
with old Fashion.
After that I do not know exactly what she did. I heard that though
the parish was vacant she had a Sunday-school at the old church,
and so kept the church open; and that she used to play the wheezy old organ
and teach the poor children the chants; but as they grew up they all joined
another Church; they had a new organ there. I do not know just how
she got on. I was surprised to hear finally that she was dead --
had been dead since Christmas. It had never occurred to me
that she would die. She had been dying so long that I had almost come
to regard her as immortal, and as a necessary part of the old county
and its associations.
I fell in some time afterwards with a young doctor from the old county,
who, I found, had attended her, and I made some inquiries about her.
He told me that she died Christmas night. She came to his house
on her old mare, in the rain and snow the night before, to get him to go
to see someone, some "friend" of hers who was sick. He said she had more
sick friends than anyone he ever knew; he told her that he was sick himself
and could not go; but she was so importunate that he promised to go
next morning (she was always very worrying). He said she was wet
and shivering then (she never had any idea about really protecting herself),
and that she appeared to have a wretched cold. She had been riding all day
seeing about a Christmas-tree for the poor children. He urged her to stop
and spend the night, but she insisted that she must go on, though it was
nearly dark and raining hard, and the roads would have mired a cat
(she was always self-willed). Next day he went to see the sick woman,
and when he arrived he found her in one bed and Cousin Fanny in another,
in the same room. When he had examined the patient, he turned and
asked Cousin Fanny what was the matter with her. "Oh, just a little cold,
a little trouble in the chest, as Theodore Hook said," she replied.
"But I know how to doctor myself." Something about her voice struck him.
He went over to her and looked at her, and found her suffering from
acute pneumonia. He at once set to work on her. He took the other patient
up in his arms and carried her into another room, where he told her that
Cousin Fanny was a desperately ill woman. "She was actually dying then, sir,"
he said to me, "and she died that night. When she arrived at the place
the night before, which was not until after nine o'clock,
she had gone to the stable herself to put up her old mare,
or rather to see that she was fed -- she always did that --
so when she got into the house she was wet and chilled through,
and she had to go to bed. She must have had on wet clothes," he said.
I asked him if she knew she was going to die. He said he did not think
she did; that he did not tell her, and she talked about nothing
except her Christmas-tree and the people she wanted to see. He heard her
praying in the night, "and, by the way," he said, "she mentioned you.
She shortly became rather delirious, and wandered a good deal,
talking of things that must have happened when she was young;
spoke of going to see her mother somewhere. The last thing she ever said
was something about fashion, which," he said, "showed how ingrained
is vanity in the female mind." The doctor knows something of human nature.
He concluded what he had to say with, "She was in some respects
a very remarkable woman -- if she had not been an old maid.
I do not suppose that she ever drew a well breath in her life.
Not that I think old maids cannot be very acceptable women," he apologized.
"They are sometimes very useful." The doctor was a rather enlightened man.
Some of her relatives got there in time for the funeral, and a good many
of the poor people came; and she was carried in a little old spring wagon,
drawn by Fashion, through the snow, to the old home place,
where Scroggs very kindly let them dig the grave, and was buried there
in the old graveyard in the garden, in a vacant space just beside her mother,
with the children around her. I really miss her a great deal.
The other boys say they do the same. I suppose it is the trouble
she used to give us.
The old set are all doing well. Doug is a professor.
He says the word "spinster" gave him a twist to philology.
Old Blinky is in Paris. He had a picture in the salon last year,
an autumn landscape, called "Le Cote du Bois". I believe
the translation of that is "The Woodside". His coloring is said to be
nature itself. To think of old Blinky being a great artist!
Little Kitty is now a big girl, and is doing finely at school.
I have told her she must not be an old maid. Joe is a preacher
with a church in the purlieus of a large city. I was there not long ago.
He had a choral service. The Gregorian music carried me back to old times.
He preached on the text, "I was sick, and ye visited me." It was such
a fine sermon, and he had such a large congregation, that I asked
why he did not go to a finer church. He said he was "carrying soup
to Mrs. Ronquist." By the way, his organist was a splendid musician.
She introduced herself to me. It was Scroggs's daughter. She is married,
and can walk as well as I can. She had a little girl with her that I think
she called "Fanny". I do not think that was Mrs. Scroggs's name.
Frank is now a doctor, or rather a surgeon, in the same city with Joe,
and becoming very distinguished. The other day he performed
a great operation, saving a woman's life, which was in all the papers.
He said to an interviewer that he became a surgeon from dressing a sore
on an old mare's back. I wonder what he was talking about?
He is about to start a woman's hospital for poor women.
Cousin Fanny would have been glad of that; she was always proud of Frank.
She would as likely as not have quoted that verse from Tennyson's song
about the echoes. She sleeps now under the myrtle at Scroggs's.
I have often thought of what that doctor said about her:
that she would have been a very remarkable woman, if she had not been
an old maid -- I mean, a spinster.
The Burial of the Guns
Lee surrendered the remnant of his army at Appomattox, April 9, 1865,
and yet a couple of days later the old Colonel's battery lay intrenched
right in the mountain-pass where it had halted three days before.
Two weeks previously it had been detailed with a light division
sent to meet and repel a force which it was understood was coming in
by way of the southwest valley to strike Lee in the rear of his long line
from Richmond to Petersburg. It had done its work. The mountain-pass
had been seized and held, and the Federal force had not gotten by that road
within the blue rampart which guarded on that side the heart of Virginia.
This pass, which was the key to the main line of passage over the mountains,
had been assigned by the commander of the division to the old Colonel
and his old battery, and they had held it. The position taken by the battery
had been chosen with a soldier's eye. A better place could not
have been selected to hold the pass. It was its highest point,
just where the road crawled over the shoulder of the mountain
along the limestone cliff, a hundred feet sheer above the deep river,
where its waters had cut their way in ages past, and now lay deep and silent,
as if resting after their arduous toil before they began to boil over
the great bowlders which filled the bed a hundred or more yards below.
The little plateau at the top guarded the descending road on either side
for nearly a mile, and the mountain on the other side of the river
was the centre of a clump of rocky, heavily timbered spurs, so inaccessible
that no feet but those of wild animals or of the hardiest hunter
had ever climbed it. On the side of the river on which the road lay,
the only path out over the mountain except the road itself
was a charcoal-burner's track, dwindling at times to a footway
known only to the mountain-folk, which a picket at the top
could hold against an army. The position, well defended, was impregnable,
and it was well defended. This the general of the division knew
when he detailed the old Colonel and gave him his order to hold the pass
until relieved, and not let his guns fall into the hands of the enemy.
He knew both the Colonel and his battery. The battery was one of the oldest
in the army. It had been in the service since April, 1861,
and its commander had come to be known as "The Wheel Horse of his division".
He was, perhaps, the oldest officer of his rank in his branch of the service.
Although he had bitterly opposed secession, and was many years past
the age of service when the war came on, yet as soon as the President
called on the State for her quota of troops to coerce South Carolina,
he had raised and uniformed an artillery company, and offered it,
not to the President of the United States, but to the Governor of Virginia.
It is just at this point that he suddenly looms up to me as a soldier;
the relation he never wholly lost to me afterward, though I knew him
for many, many years of peace. His gray coat with the red facing
and the bars on the collar; his military cap; his gray flannel shirt --
it was the first time I ever saw him wear anything but immaculate linen --
his high boots; his horse caparisoned with a black, high-peaked saddle,
with crupper and breast-girth, instead of the light English hunting-saddle
to which I had been accustomed, all come before me now as if it were
but the other day. I remember but little beyond it, yet I remember,
as if it were yesterday, his leaving home, and the scenes
which immediately preceded it; the excitement created by the news
of the President's call for troops; the unanimous judgment that it meant war;
the immediate determination of the old Colonel, who had hitherto
opposed secession, that it must be met; the suppressed agitation
on the plantation, attendant upon the tender of his services
and the Governor's acceptance of them. The prompt and continuous work
incident to the enlistment of the men, the bustle of preparation,
and all the scenes of that time, come before me now. It turned
the calm current of the life of an old and placid country neighborhood,
far from any city or centre, and stirred it into a boiling torrent,
strong enough, or fierce enough to cut its way and join the general torrent
which was bearing down and sweeping everything before it.
It seemed but a minute before the quiet old plantation, in which the harvest,
the corn-shucking, and the Christmas holidays alone marked the passage
of the quiet seasons, and where a strange carriage or a single horseman
coming down the big road was an event in life, was turned into
a depot of war-supplies, and the neighborhood became a parade-ground.
The old Colonel, not a colonel yet, nor even a captain, except by brevet,
was on his horse by daybreak and off on his rounds through the plantations
and the pines enlisting his company. The office in the yard, heretofore one
in name only, became one now in reality, and a table was set out
piled with papers, pens, ink, books of tactics and regulation, at which men
were accepted and enrolled. Soldiers seemed to spring from the ground,
as they did from the sowing of the dragon's teeth in the days of Cadmus.
Men came up the high road or down the paths across the fields,
sometimes singly, but oftener in little parties of two or three,
and, asking for the Captain, entered the office as private citizens
and came out soldiers enlisted for the war. There was nothing heard of
on the plantation except fighting; white and black, all were at work,
and all were eager; the servants contended for the honor of going
with their master; the women flocked to the house to assist in the work
of preparation, cutting out and making under-clothes, knitting socks,
picking lint, preparing bandages, and sewing on uniforms;
for many of the men who had enlisted were of the poorest class,
far too poor to furnish anything themselves, and their equipment
had to be contributed mainly by wealthier neighbors. The work was
carried on at night as well as by day, for the occasion was urgent.
Meantime the men were being drilled by the Captain and his lieutenants,
who had been militia officers of old. We were carried to see the drill
at the cross-roads, and a brave sight it seemed to us: the lines marching
and countermarching in the field, with the horses galloping as they wheeled
amid clouds of dust, at the hoarse commands of the excited officers,
and the roadside lined with spectators of every age and condition.
I recall the arrival of the messenger one night, with the telegraphic order
to the Captain to report with his company at "Camp Lee" immediately;
the hush in the parlor that attended its reading; then the forced beginning
of the conversation afterwards in a somewhat strained and unnatural key,
and the Captain's quick and decisive outlining of his plans.
Within the hour a dozen messengers were on their way in various directions
to notify the members of the command of the summons, and to deliver
the order for their attendance at a given point next day. It seemed that
a sudden and great change had come. It was the actual appearance
of what had hitherto only been theoretical -- war. The next morning
the Captain, in full uniform, took leave of the assembled plantation,
with a few solemn words commending all he left behind to God,
and galloped away up the big road to join and lead his battery to the war,
and to be gone just four years.
Within a month he was on "the Peninsula" with Magruder, guarding Virginia
on the east against the first attack. His camp was first at Yorktown
and then on Jamestown Island, the honor having been assigned his battery
of guarding the oldest cradle of the race on this continent.
It was at "Little Bethel" that his guns were first trained on the enemy,
and that the battery first saw what they had to do, and from this time
until the middle of April, 1865, they were in service, and no battery
saw more service or suffered more in it. Its story was a part of the story
of the Southern Army in Virginia. The Captain was a rigid disciplinarian,
and his company had more work to do than most new companies.
A pious churchman, of the old puritanical type not uncommon to Virginia,
he looked after the spiritual as well as the physical welfare of his men,
and his chaplain or he read prayers at the head of his company
every morning during the war. At first he was not popular with the men,
he made the duties of camp life so onerous to them, it was
"nothing but drilling and praying all the time," they said.
But he had not commanded very long before they came to know
the stuff that was in him. He had not been in service a year
before he had had four horses shot under him, and when later on
he was offered the command of a battalion, the old company petitioned
to be one of his batteries, and still remained under his command.
Before the first year was out the battery had, through its own elements,
and the discipline of the Captain, become a cohesive force,
and a distinct integer in the Army of Northern Virginia.
Young farmer recruits knew of its prestige and expressed preference for it
of many batteries of rapidly growing or grown reputation. Owing to
its high stand, the old and clumsy guns with which it had started out
were taken from it, and in their place was presented a battery of four fine,
brass, twelve-pound Napoleons of the newest and most approved kind,
and two three-inch Parrotts, all captured. The men were as pleased with them
as children with new toys. The care and attention needed to keep them
in prime order broke the monotony of camp life. They soon had
abundant opportunities to test their power. They worked admirably,
carried far, and were extraordinarily accurate in their aim.
The men from admiration of their guns grew to have first a pride in,
and then an affection for, them, and gave them nicknames as they did
their comrades; the four Napoleons being dubbed "The Evangelists",
and the two rifles being "The Eagle", because of its scream and force,
and "The Cat", because when it became hot from rapid firing "It jumped,"
they said, "like a cat." From many a hill-top in Virginia, Maryland,
and Pennsylvania "The Evangelists" spoke their hoarse message
of battle and death, "The Eagle" screamed her terrible note,
and "The Cat" jumped as she spat her deadly shot from her hot throat.
In the Valley of Virginia; on the levels of Henrico and Hanover;
on the slopes of Manassas; in the woods of Chancellorsville;
on the heights of Fredericksburg; at Antietam and Gettysburg;
in the Spottsylvania wilderness, and again on the Hanover levels
and on the lines before Petersburg, the old guns through nearly four years
roared from fiery throats their deadly messages. The history of the battery
was bound up with the history of Lee's army. A rivalry sprang up
among the detachments of the different guns, and their several records were
jealously kept. The number of duels each gun was in was carefully counted,
every scar got in battle was treasured, and the men around their camp-fires,
at their scanty messes, or on the march, bragged of them among themselves
and avouched them as witnesses. New recruits coming in to fill the gaps
made by the killed and disabled, readily fell in with the common mood
and caught the spirit like a contagion. It was not an uncommon thing
for a wheel to be smashed in by a shell, but if it happened to one gun
oftener than to another there was envy. Two of the Evangelists
seemed to be especially favored in this line, while the Cat was so exempt
as to become the subject of some derision. The men stood by the guns
till they were knocked to pieces, and when the fortune of the day
went against them, had with their own hands oftener than once saved them
after most of their horses were killed.
This had happened in turn to every gun, the men at times working like beavers
in mud up to their thighs and under a murderous fire to get their guns out.
Many a man had been killed tugging at trail or wheel when the day was
against them; but not a gun had ever been lost. At last the evil day arrived.
At Winchester a sudden and impetuous charge for a while swept everything
before it, and carried the knoll where the old battery was posted;
but all the guns were got out by the toiling and rapidly dropping men,
except the Cat, which was captured with its entire detachment working at it
until they were surrounded and knocked from the piece by cavalrymen.
Most of the men who were not killed were retaken before the day was over,
with many guns; but the Cat was lost. She remained in the enemy's hands
and probably was being turned against her old comrades and lovers.
The company was inconsolable. The death of comrades was too natural
and common a thing to depress the men beyond what such occurrences
necessarily did; but to lose a gun! It was like losing the old Colonel;
it was worse: a gun was ranked as a brigadier; and the Cat was equal
to a major-general. The other guns seemed lost without her;
the Eagle especially, which generally went next to her, appeared to the men
to have a lonely and subdued air. The battery was no longer the same:
it seemed broken and depleted, shrunken to a mere section.
It was worse than Cold Harbor, where over half the men were killed or wounded.
The old Captain, now Colonel of the battalion, appreciated the loss
and apprehended its effect on the men as much as they themselves did,
and application was made for a gun to take the place of the lost piece;
but there was none to be had, as the men said they had known all along.
It was added -- perhaps by a department clerk -- that if they wanted a gun
to take the place of the one they had lost, they had better capture it.
"By ----, we will," they said -- adding epithets, intended for
the department clerk in his "bomb-proof", not to be printed in this record --
and they did. For some time afterwards in every engagement into which
they got there used to be speculation among them as to whether the Cat
were not there on the other side; some of the men swearing
they could tell her report, and even going to the rash length
of offering bets on her presence.
By one of those curious coincidences, as strange as anything in fiction,
a new general had, in 1864, come down across the Rapidan to take Richmond,
and the old battery had found a hill-top in the line in which Lee's army
lay stretched across "the Wilderness" country to stop him. The day,
though early in May, was a hot one, and the old battery, like most others,
had suffered fearfully. Two of the guns had had wheels cut down by shells
and the men had been badly cut up; but the fortune of the day
had been with Lee, and a little before nightfall, after a terrible fight,
there was a rapid advance, Lee's infantry sweeping everything before it,
and the artillery, after opening the way for the charge,
pushing along with it; now unlimbering as some vantage-ground was gained,
and using canister with deadly effect; now driving ahead again so rapidly
that it was mixed up with the muskets when the long line of breastworks
was carried with a rush, and a line of guns were caught still hot from their
rapid work. As the old battery, with lathered horses and smoke-grimed men,
swung up the crest and unlimbered on the captured breastwork,
a cheer went up which was heard even above the long general yell
of the advancing line, and for a moment half the men in the battery
crowded together around some object on the edge of the redoubt,
yelling like madmen. The next instant they divided, and there was the Cat,
smoke-grimed and blood-stained and still sweating hot from her last fire,
being dragged from her muddy ditch by as many men as could get hold
of trail-rope or wheel, and rushed into her old place beside the Eagle,
in time to be double-shotted with canister to the muzzle, and to pour it
from among her old comrades into her now retiring former masters. Still,
she had a new carriage, and her record was lost, while those of the other guns
had been faithfully kept by the men. This made a difference in her position
for which even the bullets in her wheels did not wholly atone; even Harris,
the sergeant of her detachment, felt that.
It was only a few days later, however, that abundant atonement was made.
The new general did not retire across the Rapidan after his first defeat,
and a new battle had to be fought: a battle, if anything, more furious,
more terrible than the first, when the dead filled the trenches
and covered the fields. He simply marched by the left flank,
and Lee marching by the right flank to head him, flung himself upon him again
at Spottsylvania Court-House. That day the Cat, standing in her place
behind the new and temporary breastwork thrown up when the battery was posted,
had the felloes of her wheels, which showed above the top of the bank,
entirely cut away by Minie-bullets, so that when she jumped in the recoil
her wheels smashed and let her down. This covered all old scores.
The other guns had been cut down by shells or solid shot;
but never before had one been gnawed down by musket-balls.
From this time all through the campaign the Cat held her own beside
her brazen and bloody sisters, and in the cold trenches before Petersburg
that winter, when the new general -- Starvation -- had joined the one
already there, she made her bloody mark as often as any gun on the long lines.
Thus the old battery had come to be known, as its old commander, now colonel
of a battalion, had come to be known by those in yet higher command.
And when in the opening spring of 1865 it became apparent to the leaders
of both armies that the long line could not longer be held if a force
should enter behind it, and, sweeping the one partially unswept portion
of Virginia, cut the railways in the southwest, and a man was wanted
to command the artillery in the expedition sent to meet this force,
it was not remarkable that the old Colonel and his battalion should be
selected for the work. The force sent out was but small; for the long line
was worn to a thin one in those days, and great changes were taking place,
the consequences of which were known only to the commanders. In a few days
the commander of the expedition found that he must divide his small force
for a time, at least, to accomplish his purpose, and sending the old Colonel
with one battery of artillery to guard one pass, must push on
over the mountain by another way to meet the expected force, if possible,
and repel it before it crossed the farther range. Thus the old battery,
on an April evening of 1865, found itself toiling alone up the steep
mountain road which leads above the river to the gap, which formed
the chief pass in that part of the Blue Ridge. Both men and horses looked,
in the dim and waning light of the gray April day, rather like shadows
of the beings they represented than the actual beings themselves.
And anyone seeing them as they toiled painfully up, the thin horses
floundering in the mud, and the men, often up to their knees,
tugging at the sinking wheels, now stopping to rest, and always moving
so slowly that they seemed scarcely to advance at all, might have thought them
the ghosts of some old battery lost from some long gone and forgotten war
on that deep and desolate mountain road. Often, when they stopped,
the blowing of the horses and the murmuring of the river in its bed below
were the only sounds heard, and the tired voices of the men when they spoke
among themselves seemed hardly more articulate sounds than they.
Then the voice of the mounted figure on the roan horse half hidden in the mist
would cut in, clear and inspiring, in a tone of encouragement more than
of command, and everything would wake up: the drivers would shout
and crack their whips; the horses would bend themselves on the collars and
flounder in the mud; the men would spring once more to the mud-clogged wheels,
and the slow ascent would begin again.
The orders to the Colonel, as has been said, were brief: To hold the pass
until he received further instructions, and not to lose his guns.
To be ordered, with him, was to obey. The last streak of twilight
brought them to the top of the pass; his soldier's instinct
and a brief recognizance made earlier in the day told him that this was
his place, and before daybreak next morning the point was as well fortified
as a night's work by weary and supperless men could make it.
A prettier spot could not have been found for the purpose; a small plateau,
something over an acre in extent, where a charcoal-burner's hut
had once stood, lay right at the top of the pass. It was a little higher
on either side than in the middle, where a small brook,
along which the charcoal-burner's track was yet visible,
came down from the wooded mountain above, thus giving a natural crest
to aid the fortification on either side, with open space for the guns,
while the edge of the wood coming down from the mountain afforded shelter
for the camp.
As the battery was unsupported it had to rely on itself for everything,
a condition which most soldiers by this time were accustomed to.
A dozen or so of rifles were in the camp, and with these pickets were armed
and posted. The pass had been seized none too soon; a scout brought in
the information before nightfall that the invading force had crossed
the farther range before that sent to meet it could get there,
and taking the nearest road had avoided the main body opposing it,
and been met only by a rapidly moving detachment, nothing more
than a scouting party, and now were advancing rapidly on the road
on which they were posted, evidently meaning to seize the pass
and cross the mountain at this point. The day was Sunday;
a beautiful Spring Sunday; but it was no Sabbath for the old battery.
All day the men worked, making and strengthening their redoubt
to guard the pass, and by the next morning, with the old battery at the top,
it was impregnable. They were just in time. Before noon their vedettes
brought in word that the enemy were ascending the mountain,
and the sun had hardly turned when the advance guard rode up,
came within range of the picket, and were fired on.
It was apparent that they supposed the force there only a small one,
for they retired and soon came up again reinforced in some numbers,
and a sharp little skirmish ensued, hot enough to make them
more prudent afterwards, though the picket retired up the mountain.
This gave them encouragement and probably misled them, for they now
advanced boldly. They saw the redoubt on the crest as they came on,
and unlimbering a section or two, flung a few shells up at it,
which either fell short or passed over without doing material damage.
None of the guns was allowed to respond, as the distance was too great
with the ammunition the battery had, and, indifferent as it was,
it was too precious to be wasted in a duel at an ineffectual range.
Doubtless deceived by this, the enemy came on in force, being obliged
by the character of the ground to keep almost entirely to the road,
which really made them advance in column. The battery waited.
Under orders of the Colonel the guns standing in line were double-shotted
with canister, and, loaded to the muzzle, were trained down
to sweep the road at from four to five hundred yards' distance.
And when the column reached this point the six guns, aimed by
old and skilful gunners, at a given word swept road and mountain-side with
a storm of leaden hail. It was a fire no mortal man could stand up against,
and the practised gunners rammed their pieces full again,
and before the smoke had cleared or the reverberation had died away
among the mountains, had fired the guns again and yet again.
The road was cleared of living things when the draught setting down the river
drew the smoke away; but it was no discredit to the other force;
for no army that was ever uniformed could stand against that battery
in that pass. Again and again the attempt was made to get a body of men up
under cover of the woods and rocks on the mountain-side, while the guns below
utilized their better ammunition from longer range; but it was useless.
Although one of the lieutenants and several men were killed in the skirmish,
and a number more were wounded, though not severely, the old battery
commanded the mountain-side, and its skilful gunners swept it at every point
the foot of man could scale. The sun went down flinging his last flame
on a victorious battery still crowning the mountain pass.
The dead were buried by night in a corner of the little plateau,
borne to their last bivouac on the old gun-carriages which they had stood by
so often -- which the men said would "sort of ease their minds."
The next day the fight was renewed, and with the same result.
The old battery in its position was unconquerable. Only one fear
now faced them; their ammunition was getting as low as their rations;
another such day or half-day would exhaust it. A sergeant was sent back
down the mountain to try to get more, or, if not, to get tidings.
The next day it was supposed the fight would be renewed; and the men waited,
alert, eager, vigilant, their spirits high, their appetite for victory
whetted by success. The men were at their breakfast, or what went
for breakfast, scanty at all times, now doubly so, hardly deserving
the title of a meal, so poor and small were the portions of cornmeal,
cooked in their frying-pans, which went for their rations, when the sound
of artillery below broke on the quiet air. They were on their feet
in an instant and at the guns, crowding upon the breastwork
to look or to listen; for the road, as far as could be seen down the mountain,
was empty except for their own picket, and lay as quiet as if sleeping
in the balmy air. And yet volley after volley of artillery came rolling
up the mountain. What could it mean? That the rest of their force
had come up and was engaged with that at the foot of the mountain?
The Colonel decided to be ready to go and help them; to fall on the enemy
in the rear; perhaps they might capture the entire force.
It seemed the natural thing to do, and the guns were limbered up
in an incredibly short time, and a roadway made through the intrenchment,
the men working like beavers under the excitement. Before they had left
the redoubt, however, the vedettes sent out returned and reported
that there was no engagement going on, and the firing below seemed to be
only practising. There was quite a stir in the camp below;
but they had not even broken camp. This was mysterious. Perhaps it meant
that they had received reinforcements, but it was a queer way of showing it.
The old Colonel sighed as he thought of the good ammunition
they could throw away down there, and of his empty limber-chests.
It was necessary to be on the alert, however; the guns were run back
into their old places, and the horses picketed once more back among the trees.
Meantime he sent another messenger back, this time a courier, for he had
but one commissioned officer left, and the picket below was strengthened.
The morning passed and no one came; the day wore on and still no advance
was made by the force below. It was suggested that the enemy had left;
he had, at least, gotten enough of that battery. A reconnoissance, however,
showed that he was still encamped at the foot of the mountain.
It was conjectured that he was trying to find a way around
to take them in the rear, or to cross the ridge by the footpath.
Preparation was made to guard more closely the mountain-path across the spur,
and a detachment was sent up to strengthen the picket there.
The waiting told on the men and they grew bored and restless.
They gathered about the guns in groups and talked; talked of each piece some,
but not with the old spirit and vim; the loneliness of the mountain
seemed to oppress them; the mountains stretching up so brown and gray
on one side of them, and so brown and gray on the other, with their bare,
dark forests soughing from time to time as the wind swept up the pass.
The minds of the men seemed to go back to the time when they were
not so alone, but were part of a great and busy army, and some of them
fell to talking of the past, and the battles they had figured in,
and of the comrades they had lost. They told them off in a slow
and colorless way, as if it were all part of the past as much as the dead
they named. One hundred and nineteen times they had been in action.
Only seventeen men were left of the eighty odd who had first enlisted
in the battery, and of these four were at home crippled for life.
Two of the oldest men had been among the half-dozen who had fallen
in the skirmish just the day before. It looked tolerably hard
to be killed that way after passing for four years through such battles
as they had been in; and both had wives and children at home, too,
and not a cent to leave them to their names. They agreed calmly
that they'd have to "sort of look after them a little" if they ever got home.
These were some of the things they talked about as they pulled
their old worn coats about them, stuffed their thin, weather-stained hands
in their ragged pockets to warm them, and squatted down under the breastwork
to keep a little out of the wind. One thing they talked about a good deal
was something to eat. They described meals they had had
at one time or another as personal adventures, and discussed the chances
of securing others in the future as if they were prizes of fortune.
One listening and seeing their thin, worn faces and their wasted frames
might have supposed they were starving, and they were,
but they did not say so.
Towards the middle of the afternoon there was a sudden excitement in the camp.
A dozen men saw them at the same time: a squad of three men down the road
at the farthest turn, past their picket; but an advancing column
could not have created as much excitement, for the middle man carried
a white flag. In a minute every man in the battery was on the breastwork.
What could it mean! It was a long way off, nearly half a mile,
and the flag was small: possibly only a pocket-handkerchief or a napkin;
but it was held aloft as a flag unmistakably. A hundred conjectures
were indulged in. Was it a summons to surrender? A request for an armistice
for some purpose? Or was it a trick to ascertain their number and position?
Some held one view, some another. Some extreme ones thought
a shot ought to be fired over them to warn them not to come on;
no flags of truce were wanted. The old Colonel, who had walked to
the edge of the plateau outside the redoubt and taken his position
where he could study the advancing figures with his field-glass,
had not spoken. The lieutenant who was next in command to him
had walked out after him, and stood near him, from time to time
dropping a word or two of conjecture in a half-audible tone;
but the Colonel had not answered a word; perhaps none was expected.
Suddenly he took his glass down, and gave an order to the lieutenant:
"Take two men and meet them at the turn yonder; learn their business;
and act as your best judgment advises. If necessary to bring
the messenger farther, bring only the officer who has the flag,
and halt him at that rock yonder, where I will join him."
The tone was as placid as if such an occurrence came every day.
Two minutes later the lieutenant was on his way down the mountain
and the Colonel had the men in ranks. His face was as grave
and his manner as quiet as usual, neither more nor less so.
The men were in a state of suppressed excitement. Having put them
in charge of the second sergeant the Colonel returned to the breastwork.
The two officers were slowly ascending the hill, side by side,
the bearer of the flag, now easily distinguishable in his jaunty uniform
as a captain of cavalry, talking, and the lieutenant in faded gray,
faced with yet more faded red, walking beside him with a face white
even at that distance, and lips shut as though they would never open again.
They halted at the big bowlder which the Colonel had indicated,
and the lieutenant, having saluted ceremoniously, turned to come up
to the camp; the Colonel, however, went down to meet him. The two men met,
but there was no spoken question; if the Colonel inquired it was only with
the eyes. The lieutenant spoke, however. "He says," he began and stopped,
then began again -- "he says, General Lee --" again he choked,
then blurted out, "I believe it is all a lie -- a damned lie."
"Not dead? Not killed?" said the Colonel, quickly.
"No, not so bad as that; surrendered: surrendered his entire army
at Appomattox day before yesterday. I believe it is all a damned lie,"
he broke out again, as if the hot denial relieved him. The Colonel simply
turned away his face and stepped a pace or two off, and the two men stood
motionless back to back for more than a minute. Then the Colonel stirred.
"Shall I go back with you?" the lieutenant asked, huskily.
The Colonel did not answer immediately. Then he said: "No, go back to camp
and await my return." He said nothing about not speaking of the report.
He knew it was not needed. Then he went down the hill slowly alone,
while the lieutenant went up to the camp.
The interview between the two officers beside the bowlder was not a long one.
It consisted of a brief statement by the Federal envoy of the fact
of Lee's surrender two days before near Appomattox Court-House,
with the sources of his information, coupled with a formal demand
on the Colonel for his surrender. To this the Colonel replied
that he had been detached and put under command of another officer
for a specific purpose, and that his orders were to hold that pass,
which he should do until he was instructed otherwise by his superior
in command. With that they parted, ceremoniously, the Federal captain
returning to where he had left his horse in charge of his companions
a little below, and the old Colonel coming slowly up the hill to camp.
The men were at once set to work to meet any attack which might be made.
They knew that the message was of grave import, but not of how grave.
They thought it meant that another attack would be made immediately,
and they sprang to their work with renewed vigor, and a zeal as fresh
as if it were but the beginning and not the end.
The time wore on, however, and there was no demonstration below,
though hour after hour it was expected and even hoped for.
Just as the sun sank into a bed of blue cloud a horseman was seen
coming up the darkened mountain from the eastward side, and in a little while
practised eyes reported him one of their own men -- the sergeant
who had been sent back the day before for ammunition. He was alone,
and had something white before him on his horse -- it could not be
the ammunition; but perhaps that might be coming on behind.
Every step of his jaded horse was anxiously watched. As he drew near,
the lieutenant, after a word with the Colonel, walked down to meet him,
and there was a short colloquy in the muddy road; then they came back together
and slowly entered the camp, the sergeant handing down a bag of corn
which he had got somewhere below, with the grim remark to his comrades,
"There's your rations," and going at once to the Colonel's camp-fire,
a little to one side among the trees, where the Colonel awaited him.
A long conference was held, and then the sergeant left to take his luck
with his mess, who were already parching the corn he had brought
for their supper, while the lieutenant made the round of the camp;
leaving the Colonel seated alone on a log by his camp-fire.
He sat without moving, hardly stirring until the lieutenant returned
from his round. A minute later the men were called from the guns and made
to fall into line. They were silent, tremulous with suppressed excitement;
the most sun-burned and weather-stained of them a little pale; the meanest,
raggedest, and most insignificant not unimpressive in the deep
and solemn silence with which they stood, their eyes fastened on the Colonel,
waiting for him to speak. He stepped out in front of them, slowly ran his eye
along the irregular line, up and down, taking in every man in his glance,
resting on some longer than on others, the older men, then dropped them
to the ground, and then suddenly, as if with an effort, began to speak.
His voice had a somewhat metallic sound, as if it were restrained;
but it was otherwise the ordinary tone of command. It was not much
that he said: simply that it had become his duty to acquaint them
with the information which he had received: that General Lee had surrendered
two days before at Appomattox Court-House, yielding to overwhelming numbers;
that this afternoon when he had first heard the report he had questioned
its truth, but that it had been confirmed by one of their own men,
and no longer admitted of doubt; that the rest of their own force,
it was learned, had been captured, or had disbanded, and the enemy
was now on both sides of the mountain; that a demand had been made on him
that morning to surrender too; but that he had orders which he felt held good
until they were countermanded, and he had declined. Later intelligence
satisfied him that to attempt to hold out further would be useless,
and would involve needless waste of life; he had determined, therefore,
not to attempt to hold their position longer; but to lead them out,
if possible, so as to avoid being made prisoners and enable them
to reach home sooner and aid their families. His orders were
not to let his guns fall into the enemy's hands, and he should take
the only step possible to prevent it. In fifty minutes he should
call the battery into line once more, and roll the guns over the cliff
into the river, and immediately afterwards, leaving the wagons there,
he would try to lead them across the mountain, and as far as they could go
in a body without being liable to capture, and then he should disband them,
and his responsibility for them would end. As it was necessary
to make some preparations he would now dismiss them to prepare
any rations they might have and get ready to march.
All this was in the formal manner of a common order of the day;
and the old Colonel had spoken in measured sentences, with little feeling
in his voice. Not a man in the line had uttered a word after the first sound,
half exclamation, half groan, which had burst from them at the announcement
of Lee's surrender. After that they had stood in their tracks
like rooted trees, as motionless as those on the mountain behind them,
their eyes fixed on their commander, and only the quick heaving
up and down the dark line, as of horses over-laboring, told of the emotion
which was shaking them. The Colonel, as he ended, half-turned to
his subordinate officer at the end of the dim line, as though he were about
to turn the company over to him to be dismissed; then faced the line again,
and taking a step nearer, with a sudden movement of his hands towards the men
as though he would have stretched them out to them, began again:
"Men," he said, and his voice changed at the word, and sounded like
a father's or a brother's, "My men, I cannot let you go so. We were neighbors
when the war began -- many of us, and some not here to-night;
we have been more since then -- comrades, brothers in arms; we have all stood
for one thing -- for Virginia and the South; we have all done our duty --
tried to do our duty; we have fought a good fight, and now it seems
to be over, and we have been overwhelmed by numbers, not whipped --
and we are going home. We have the future before us -- we don't know
just what it will bring, but we can stand a good deal. We have proved it.
Upon us depends the South in the future as in the past.
You have done your duty in the past, you will not fail in the future.
Go home and be honest, brave, self-sacrificing, God-fearing citizens,
as you have been soldiers, and you need not fear for Virginia and the South.
The war may be over; but you will ever be ready to serve your country.
The end may not be as we wanted it, prayed for it, fought for it;
but we can trust God; the end in the end will be the best that could be;
even if the South is not free she will be better and stronger that she fought
as she did. Go home and bring up your children to love her,
and though you may have nothing else to leave them, you can leave them
the heritage that they are sons of men who were in Lee's army."
He stopped, looked up and down the ranks again, which had instinctively
crowded together and drawn around him in a half-circle; made a sign to
the lieutenant to take charge, and turned abruptly on his heel to walk away.
But as he did so, the long pent-up emotion burst forth. With a wild cheer
the men seized him, crowding around and hugging him, as with protestations,
prayers, sobs, oaths -- broken, incoherent, inarticulate -- they swore
to be faithful, to live loyal forever to the South, to him, to Lee.
Many of them cried like children; others offered to go down
and have one more battle on the plain. The old Colonel soothed them,
and quieted their excitement, and then gave a command about the preparations
to be made. This called them to order at once; and in a few minutes
the camp was as orderly and quiet as usual: the fires were replenished;
the scanty stores were being overhauled; the place was selected,
and being got ready to roll the guns over the cliff; the camp was
being ransacked for such articles as could be carried, and all preparations
were being hastily made for their march.
The old Colonel having completed his arrangements sat down by his camp-fire
with paper and pencil, and began to write; and as the men finished their work
they gathered about in groups, at first around their camp-fires,
but shortly strolled over to where the guns still stood at the breastwork,
black and vague in the darkness. Soon they were all assembled about the guns.
One after another they visited, closing around it and handling it from
muzzle to trail as a man might a horse to try its sinew and bone, or a child
to feel its fineness and warmth. They were for the most part silent,
and when any sound came through the dusk from them to the officers at
their fire, it was murmurous and fitful as of men speaking low and brokenly.
There was no sound of the noisy controversy which was generally heard,
the give-and-take of the camp-fire, the firing backwards and forwards
that went on on the march; if a compliment was paid a gun
by one of its special detachment, it was accepted by the others;
in fact, those who had generally run it down now seemed most anxious
to accord the piece praise. Presently a small number of the men
returned to a camp-fire, and, building it up, seated themselves about it,
gathering closer and closer together until they were in a little knot.
One of them appeared to be writing, while two or three took up
flaming chunks from the fire and held them as torches for him to see by.
In time the entire company assembled about them, standing in
respectful silence, broken only occasionally by a reply from one or another
to some question from the scribe. After a little there was a sound
of a roll-call, and reading and a short colloquy followed, and then two men,
one with a paper in his hand, approached the fire beside which the officers
sat still engaged.
"What is it, Harris?" said the Colonel to the man with the paper, who bore
remnants of the chevrons of a sergeant on his stained and faded jacket.
"If you please, sir," he said, with a salute, "we have been talking it over,
and we'd like this paper to go in along with that you're writing."
He held it out to the lieutenant, who was the nearer and had reached forward
to take it. "We s'pose you're agoin' to bury it with the guns," he said,
hesitatingly, as he handed it over.
"What is it?" asked the Colonel, shading his eyes with his hands.
"It's just a little list we made out in and among us," he said,
"with a few things we'd like to put in, so's if anyone ever hauls 'em out
they'll find it there to tell what the old battery was, and if they don't,
it'll be in one of 'em down thar 'til judgment, an' it'll sort of ease
our minds a bit." He stopped and waited as a man who had delivered
his message. The old Colonel had risen and taken the paper,
and now held it with a firm grasp, as if it might blow away
with the rising wind. He did not say a word, but his hand shook a little
as he proceeded to fold it carefully, and there was a burning gleam
in his deep-set eyes, back under his bushy, gray brows.
"Will you sort of look over it, sir, if you think it's worth while?
We was in a sort of hurry and we had to put it down just as we come to it;
we didn't have time to pick our ammunition; and it ain't written the best
in the world, nohow." He waited again, and the Colonel opened the paper
and glanced down at it mechanically. It contained first a roster,
headed by the list of six guns, named by name: "Matthew", "Mark", "Luke",
and "John", "The Eagle", and "The Cat"; then of the men, beginning with
Then had followed "Those wounded", but this was marked out.
Then came a roster of the company when it first entered service;
then of those who had joined afterward; then of those who were present now.
At the end of all there was this statement, not very well written,
nor wholly accurately spelt:
"To Whom it may Concern: We, the above members of the old battery known,
etc., of six guns, named, etc., commanded by the said Col. etc.,
left on the 11th day of April, 1865, have made out this roll of the battery,
them as is gone and them as is left, to bury with the guns which the same
we bury this night. We're all volunteers, every man; we joined the army
at the beginning of the war, and we've stuck through to the end;
sometimes we aint had much to eat, and sometimes we aint had nothin',
but we've fought the best we could 119 battles and skirmishes
as near as we can make out in four years, and never lost a gun.
Now we're agoin' home. We aint surrendered; just disbanded,
and we pledges ourselves to teach our children to love the South
and General Lee; and to come when we're called anywheres an' anytime,
so help us God."
There was a dead silence whilst the Colonel read.
"'Taint entirely accurite, sir, in one particular," said the sergeant,
apologetically; "but we thought it would be playin' it sort o' low down
on the Cat if we was to say we lost her unless we could tell about
gittin' of her back, and the way she done since, and we didn't have time
to do all that." He looked around as if to receive the corroboration
of the other men, which they signified by nods and shuffling.
The Colonel said it was all right, and the paper should go into the guns.
"If you please, sir, the guns are all loaded," said the sergeant;
"in and about our last charge, too; and we'd like to fire 'em off once more,
jist for old times' sake to remember 'em by, if you don't think no harm
could come of it?"
The Colonel reflected a moment and said it might be done;
they might fire each gun separately as they rolled it over,
or might get all ready and fire together, and then roll them over,
whichever they wished. This was satisfactory.
The men were then ordered to prepare to march immediately, and withdrew for
the purpose. The pickets were called in. In a short time they were ready,
horses and all, just as they would have been to march ordinarily,
except that the wagons and caissons were packed over in one corner by the camp
with the harness hung on poles beside them, and the guns stood
in their old places at the breastwork ready to defend the pass.
The embers of the sinking camp-fires threw a faint light on them
standing so still and silent. The old Colonel took his place,
and at a command from him in a somewhat low voice, the men, except a detail
left to hold the horses, moved into company-front facing the guns.
Not a word was spoken, except the words of command. At the order
each detachment went to its gun; the guns were run back and the men
with their own hands ran them up on the edge of the perpendicular bluff
above the river, where, sheer below, its waters washed its base,
as if to face an enemy on the black mountain the other side. The pieces
stood ranged in the order in which they had so often stood in battle,
and the gray, thin fog rising slowly and silently from the river
deep down between the cliffs, and wreathing the mountain-side above,
might have been the smoke from some unearthly battle fought in the dim pass
by ghostly guns, yet posted there in the darkness, manned by phantom gunners,
while phantom horses stood behind, lit vaguely up by phantom camp-fires.
At the given word the laniards were pulled together, and together as one
the six black guns, belching flame and lead, roared their last challenge
on the misty night, sending a deadly hail of shot and shell,
tearing the trees and splintering the rocks of the farther side,
and sending the thunder reverberating through the pass and down the mountain,
startling from its slumber the sleeping camp on the hills below,
and driving the browsing deer and the prowling mountain-fox in terror
up the mountain.
There was silence among the men about the guns for one brief instant
and then such a cheer burst forth as had never broken from them
even in battle: cheer on cheer, the long, wild, old familiar rebel yell
for the guns they had fought with and loved.
The noise had not died away and the men behind were still trying to quiet
the frightened horses when the sergeant, the same who had written,
received from the hand of the Colonel a long package or roll
which contained the records of the battery furnished by the men
and by the Colonel himself, securely wrapped to make them water-tight,
and it was rammed down the yet warm throat of the nearest gun: the Cat,
and then the gun was tamped to the muzzle to make her water-tight,
and, like her sisters, was spiked, and her vent tamped tight.
All this took but a minute, and the next instant the guns were run up
once more to the edge of the cliff; and the men stood by them
with their hands still on them. A deadly silence fell on the men,
and even the horses behind seemed to feel the spell. There was a long pause,
in which not a breath was heard from any man, and the soughing of
the tree-tops above and the rushing of the rapids below were the only sounds.
They seemed to come from far, very far away. Then the Colonel said, quietly,
"Let them go, and God be our helper, Amen." There was the noise
in the darkness of trampling and scraping on the cliff-top for a second;
the sound as of men straining hard together, and then with a pant
it ceased all at once, and the men held their breath to hear.
One second of utter silence; then one prolonged, deep, resounding splash
sending up a great mass of white foam as the brass-pieces together plunged
into the dark water below, and then the soughing of the trees
and the murmur of the river came again with painful distinctness.
It was full ten minutes before the Colonel spoke, though there were
other sounds enough in the darkness, and some of the men, as the dark,
outstretched bodies showed, were lying on the ground flat on their faces.
Then the Colonel gave the command to fall in in the same quiet, grave tone
he had used all night. The line fell in, the men getting to their horses
and mounting in silence; the Colonel put himself at their head
and gave the order of march, and the dark line turned in the darkness,
crossed the little plateau between the smouldering camp-fires
and the spectral caissons with the harness hanging beside them,
and slowly entered the dim charcoal-burner's track. Not a word was spoken
as they moved off. They might all have been phantoms. Only,
the sergeant in the rear, as he crossed the little breastwork
which ran along the upper side and marked the boundary of the little camp,
half turned and glanced at the dying fires, the low, newly made mounds
in the corner, the abandoned caissons, and the empty redoubt, and said,
slowly, in a low voice to himself,
"Well, by God!"
The Gray Jacket of "No. 4"
My meeting with him was accidental. I came across him
passing through "the square". I had seen him once or twice on the street,
each time lurching along so drunk that he could scarcely stagger,
so that I was surprised to hear what he said about the war.
He was talking to someone who evidently had been in the army himself,
but on the other side -- a gentleman with the loyal-legion button in his coat,
and with a beautiful scar, a sabre-cut across his face. He was telling
of a charge in some battle or skirmish in which, he declared, his company,
not himself -- for I remember he said he was "No. 4", and was generally
told off to hold the horses; and that that day he had had the ill luck
to lose his horse and get a little scratch himself, so he was not
in the charge -- did the finest work he ever saw, and really (so he claimed)
saved the day. It was this self-abnegation that first arrested my attention,
for I had been accustomed all my life to hear the war talked of;
it was one of the inspiring influences in my humdrum existence.
But the speakers, although they generally boasted of their commands,
never of themselves individually, usually admitted that they themselves
had been in the active force, and thus tacitly shared in the credit.
"No. 4", however, expressly disclaimed that he was entitled
to any of the praise, declaring that he was safe behind the crest of the hill
(which he said he "hugged mighty close"), and claimed the glory
for the rest of the command.
"It happened just as I have told you here," he said, in closing.
"Old Joe saw the point as soon as the battery went to work,
and sent Binford Terrell to the colonel to ask him to let him go over there
and take it; and when Joe gave the word the boys went. They didn't go
at a walk either, I tell you; it wasn't any promenade: they went clipping.
At first the guns shot over 'em; didn't catch 'em till the third fire;
then they played the devil with 'em: but the boys were up there right in 'em
before they could do much. They turned the guns on 'em as they went
down the hill (oh, our boys could handle the tubes then as well as
the artillery themselves), and in a little while the rest of the line came up,
and we formed a line of battle right there on that crest, and held it
till nearly night. That's when I got jabbed. I picked up another horse,
and with my foolishness went over there. That evening, you know,
you all charged us -- we were dismounted then. We lost more men then
than we had done all day; there were forty-seven out of seventy-two
killed or wounded. They walked all over us; two of 'em got hold of me
(you see, I went to get our old flag some of you had got hold of),
but I was too worthless to die. There were lots of 'em did go though,
I tell you; old Joe in the lead. Yes, sir; the old company won that day,
and old Joe led 'em. There ain't but a few of us left; but when you want us,
Colonel, you can get us. We'll stand by you."
He paused in deep reflection; his mind evidently back with his old company
and its gallant commander "old Joe", whoever he might be, who was remembered
so long after he passed away in the wind and smoke of that
unnamed evening battle. I took a good look at him -- at "No. 4",
as he called himself. He was tall, but stooped a little;
his features were good, at least his nose and brow were;
his mouth and chin were weak. His mouth was too stained with the tobacco
which he chewed to tell much about it -- and his chin was like
so many American chins, not strong. His eyes looked weak.
His clothes were very much worn, but they had once been good;
they formerly had been black, and well made; the buttons were all on.
His shirt was clean. I took note of this, for he had a dissipated look,
and a rumpled shirt would have been natural. A man's linen tells on him
before his other clothes. His listener had evidently been impressed
by him also, for he arose, and said, abruptly, "Let's go and take a drink."
To my surprise "No. 4" declined. "No, I thank you," he said, with promptness.
I instinctively looked at him again to see if I had not misjudged him;
but I concluded not, that I was right, and that he was simply "not drinking".
I was flattered at my discrimination when I heard him say that he had
"sworn off". His friend said no more, but remained standing while "No. 4"
expatiated on the difference between a man who is drinking and one who is not.
I never heard a more striking exposition of it. He said he wondered
that any man could be such a fool as to drink liquor; that he had determined
never to touch another drop. He presently relapsed into silence,
and the other reached out his hand to say good-by. Suddenly rising, he said:
"Well, suppose we go and have just one for old times' sake. Just one now,
mind you; for I have not touched a drop in ----" He turned away,
and I did not catch the length of the time mentioned. But I have
reason to believe that "No. 4" overstated it.
The next time I saw him was in the police court. I happened to be there when
he walked out of the pen among as miscellaneous a lot of chronic drunkards,
thieves, and miscreants of both sexes and several colors as were ever
gathered together. He still had on his old black suit, buttoned up;
but his linen was rumpled and soiled like himself, and he was manifestly
just getting over a debauch, the effects of which were still visible on him
in every line of his perspiring face and thin figure. He walked with
that exaggerated erectness which told his self-deluded state as plainly as if
he had pronounced it in words. He had evidently been there before,
and more than once. The justice nodded to him familiarly:
"Here again?" he asked, in a tone part pleasantry, part regret.
"Yes, your honor. Met an old soldier last night, and took a drop
for good fellowship, and before I knew it ----" A shrug of the shoulders
completed the sentence, and the shoulders did not straighten any more.
The tall officer who had picked him up said something to the justice
in a tone too low for me to catch; but "No. 4" heard it -- it was evidently
a statement against him -- for he started to speak in a deprecating way.
The judge interrupted him:
"I thought you told me last time that if I let you go you would not take
another drink for a year."
"I forgot," said "No. 4", in a low voice.
"This officer says you resisted him?"
The officer looked stolidly at the prisoner as if it were a matter
of not the slightest interest to him personally. "Cursed me and abused me,"
he said, dropping the words slowly as if he were checking off a schedule.
"I did not, your honor; indeed, I did not," said "No. 4", quickly.
"I swear I did not; he is mistaken. Your honor does not believe
I would tell you a lie! Surely I have not got so low as that."
The justice turned his pencil in his hand doubtfully, and looked away.
"No. 4" took in his position. He began again.
"I fell in with an old soldier, and we got to talking about the war --
about old times." His voice was very soft. "I will promise your honor
that I won't take another drink for a year. Here, I'll take an oath to it.
Swear me." He seized the greasy little Bible on the desk before him,
and handed it to the justice. The magistrate took it doubtfully.
He looked down at the prisoner half kindly, half humorously.
"You'll just break it." He started to lay the book down.
"No; I want to take the pledge," said "No. 4", eagerly. "Did I ever break
a pledge I made to your honor?"
"Didn't you promise me not to come back here?"
"I have not been here for nine months. Besides, I did not come
of my own free will," said "No. 4", with a faint flicker of humor
on his perspiring face.
"You were here two months ago, and you promised not to take another drink."
"I forgot that. I did not mean to break it; indeed, I did not.
I fell in with ----"
The justice looked away, considered a moment, and ordered him
back into the pen with, "Ten days, to cool off."
"No. 4" stood quite still till the officer motioned him to the gate,
behind which the prisoners sat in stolid rows. Then he walked dejectedly
back into the pen, and sat down by another drunkard. His look touched me,
and I went around and talked to the magistrate privately.
But he was inexorable; he said he knew more of him than I did,
and that ten days in jail would "dry him out and be good for him."
I told him the story of the battle. He knew it already,
and said he knew more than that about him; that he had been one of
the bravest soldiers in the whole army; did not know what fear was;
had once ridden into the enemy and torn a captured standard from
its captors' hands, receiving two desperate bayonet-wounds in doing it;
and had done other acts of conspicuous gallantry on many occasions.
I pleaded this, but he was obdurate; hard, I thought at the time,
and told him so; told him he had been a soldier himself, and ought
to be easier. He looked troubled, not offended; for we were friends,
and I think he liked to see me, who had been a boy during the war,
take up for an old soldier on that ground. But he stood firm. I must do him
the justice to say that I now think it would not have made any difference
if he had done otherwise. He had tried the other course many times.
"No. 4" must have heard me trying to help him, for one day,
about a month after that, he walked in on me quite sober,
and looking somewhat as he did the first day I saw him,
thanked me for what I had done for him; delivered one of the most impressive
discourses on intemperance that I ever heard; and asked me to try
to help him get work. He was willing to do anything, he said; that is,
anything he could do. I got him a place with a friend of mine
which he kept a week, then got drunk. We got hold of him, however,
and sobered him up, and he escaped the police and the justice's court.
Being out of work, and very firm in his resolution never to drink again,
we lent him some money -- a very little -- with which to keep along
a few days, on which he got drunk immediately, and did fall into the hands
of the police, and was sent to jail as before. This, in fact,
was his regular round: into jail, out of jail; a little spell of sobriety,
"an accidental fall", which occurred as soon as he could get a drop of liquor,
and into jail again for thirty or sixty days, according to the degree
of resistance he gave the police -- who always, by their own account,
simply tried to get him to go home, and, by his, insulted him --
and to the violence of the language he applied to them. In this he excelled;
for although as quiet as possible when he was sober, when he was drunk
he was a terror, so the police said, and his resources of vituperation
were cyclopedic. He possessed in this particular department an eloquence
which was incredible. His blasphemy was vast, illimitable, infinite.
He told me once that he could not explain it; that when he was sober
he abhorred profanity, and never uttered an oath; when he was in liquor
his brain took this turn, and distilled blasphemy in volumes.
He said that all of its energies were quickened and concentrated
in this direction, and then he took not only pleasure, but pride in it.
He told me a good deal of his life. He had got very low
at this time, much lower than he had been when I first knew him.
He recognized this himself, and used to analyze and discuss himself
in quite an impersonal way. This was when he had come out of jail,
and after having the liquor "dried out" of him. In such a state
he always referred to his condition in the past as being something
that never would or could recur; while on the other hand,
if he were just over a drunk, he frankly admitted his absolute slavery
to his habit. When he was getting drunk he shamelessly maintained,
and was ready to swear on all the Bibles in creation, that he had not
touched a drop, and never expected to do so again -- indeed,
could not be induced to do it -- when in fact he would at the very time
be reeking with the fumes of liquor, and perhaps had his pocket then
bulging with a bottle which he had just emptied, and would willingly
have bartered his soul to refill.
I never saw such absolute dominion as the love of liquor had over him.
He was like a man in chains. He confessed it frankly and calmly.
He said he had a disease, and gave me a history of it. It came on him,
he said, in spells; that when he was over one he abhorred it, but when
the fit seized him it came suddenly, and he was in absolute slavery to it.
He said his father was a gentleman of convivial habits (I have heard that
he was very dissipated, though not openly so, and "No. 4" never admitted it).
He was killed at the battle of Bull Run. His mother -- he always spoke of her
with unvarying tenderness and reverence -- had suffered enough, he said,
to canonize her if she were not a saint already; she had brought him up
to have a great horror of liquor, and he had never touched it
till he went into the army. In the army he was in a convivial crowd,
and they had hard marching and poor rations, often none. Liquor was scarce,
and was regarded as a luxury; so although he was very much afraid of it,
yet for good fellowship's sake, and because it was considered mannish,
he used to drink it. Then he got to like it; and then got to feel
the need of it, and took it to stimulate him when he was run down.
This want brought with it a great depression when he did not have
the means to satisfy it. He never liked the actual taste of it;
he said few drunkards did. It was the effect that he was always after.
This increased on him, he said, until finally it was no longer a desire,
but a passion, a necessity; he was obliged to have it. He felt then
that he would commit murder for it. "Why, I dream about it," he said.
"I will tell you what I have done. I have made the most solemn vows,
and have gone to bed and gone to sleep, and waked up and dressed
and walked miles through the rain and snow to get it. I believe
I would have done it if I had known I was going next moment to hell."
He said it had ruined him; said so quite calmly; did not appear to have
any special remorse about it; at least, never professed any; said it used to
trouble him, but he had got over it now. He had had a plantation -- that is,
his mother had had -- and he had been quite successful for a while;
but he said, "A man can't drink liquor and run a farm," and the farm had gone.
I asked him how?
"I sold it," he said calmly; "that is, persuaded my mother to sell it.
The stock that belonged to me had nearly all gone before.
A man who is drinking will sell anything," he said. "I have sold
everything in the world I had, or could lay my hands on. I have never got
quite so low as to sell my old gray jacket that I used to wear when I rode
behind old Joe. I mean to be buried in that -- if I can keep it."
He had been engaged to a nice girl; the wedding-day had been fixed;
but she had broken off the engagement. She married another man.
"She was a mighty nice girl," he said, quietly. "Her people did not like
my drinking so much. I passed her not long ago on the street.
She did not know me." He glanced down at himself quietly. "She looks older
than she did." He said that he had had a place for some time, did not
drink a drop for nearly a year, and then got with some of the old fellows,
and they persuaded him to take a little. "I cannot touch it. I have either
got to drink or let it alone -- one thing or the other," he said.
"But I am all right now," he declared triumphantly, a little of the old fire
lighting up in his face. "I never expect to touch a drop again."
He spoke so firmly that I was persuaded to make him a little loan,
taking his due-bill for it, which he always insisted on giving.
That evening I saw him being dragged along by three policemen,
and he was cursing like a demon.
In the course of time he got so low that he spent much more than half his time
in jail. He became a perfect vagabond, and with his clothes ragged and dirty
might be seen reeling about or standing around the street corners
near disreputable bars, waiting for a chance drink, or sitting asleep
in doorways of untenanted buildings. His companions would be one or two
chronic drunkards like himself, with red noses, bloated faces, dry hair,
and filthy clothes. Sometimes I would see him hurrying along
with one of these as if they had a piece of the most important business
in the world. An idea had struck their addled brains that by some means
they could manage to secure a drink. Yet in some way he still held himself
above these creatures, and once or twice I heard of him being under arrest
for resenting what he deemed an impertinence from them.
Once he came very near being drowned. There was a flood in the river,
and a large crowd was watching it from the bridge. Suddenly a little girl's
dog fell in. It was pushed in by a ruffian. The child cried out,
and there was a commotion. When it subsided a man was seen swimming for life
after the little white head going down the stream. It was "No. 4".
He had slapped the fellow in the face, and then had sprung in after the dog.
He caught it, and got out himself, though in too exhausted a state
to stand up. When he was praised for it, he said, "A member of
old Joe's company who would not have done that could not have ridden
behind old Joe." I had this story from eye-witnesses, and it was used
shortly after with good effect; for he was arrested for burglary,
breaking into a man's house one night. It looked at first
like a serious case, for some money had been taken out of a drawer;
but when the case was investigated it turned out that the house
was a bar-room over which the man lived, -- he was the same man
who had pitched the dog into the water, -- and that "No. 4",
after being given whiskey enough to make him a madman, had been put out
of the place, had broken into the bar during the night to get more,
and was found fast asleep in a chair with an empty bottle beside him.
I think the jury became satisfied that if any money had been taken
the bar-keeper, to make out a case against "No. 4", had taken it himself.
But there was a technical breaking, and it had to be got around;
so his counsel appealed to the jury, telling them what he knew of "No. 4",
together with the story of the child's dog, and "No. 4"'s reply.
There were one or two old soldiers on the jury, and they acquitted him,
on which he somehow managed to get whiskey enough to land him back in jail
in twenty-four hours.
In May, 1890, there was a monument unveiled in Richmond. It was
a great occasion, and not only all Virginia, but the whole South,
participated in it with great fervor, much enthusiasm, and many tears.
It was an occasion for sacred memories. The newspapers talked about it
for a good while beforehand; preparations were made for it
as for the celebration of a great and general ceremony in which
the whole South was interested. It was interested, because it was
not only the unveiling of a monument for the old commander,
the greatest and loftiest Southerner, and, as the South holds, man,
of his time; it was an occasion consecrated to the whole South;
it was the embalming in precious memories, and laying away in the tomb
of the Southern Confederacy: the apotheosis of the Southern people.
As such all were interested in it, and all prepared for it.
It was known that all that remained of the Southern armies would be there:
of the armies that fought at Shiloh, and Bull Run, and Fort Republic;
at Seven Pines, Gaines's Mill, and Cold Harbor; at Antietam, Fredericksburg,
Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg; at Franklin, Atlanta, Murfreesboro,
and Chickamauga, Spottsylvania, the Wilderness, and Petersburg;
and the whole South, Union as it is now and ready to fight
the nation's battles, gathered to glorify Lee, the old commander,
and to see and glorify the survivors of those and other bloody fields
in which the volunteer soldiers of the South had held the world at bay,
and added to the glorious history of their race. Men came all the way
from Oregon and California to be present. Old one-legged soldiers stumped it
from West Virginia. Even "No. 4", though in the gutter, caught the contagion,
and shaped up and became sober. He got a good suit of clothes somewhere --
not new -- and appeared quite respectable. He even got something to do,
and, in token of what he had been, was put on one of the many committees
having a hand in the entertainment arrangements. I never saw a greater change
in anyone. It looked as if there was hope for him yet. He stopped me
on the street a day or two before the unveiling and told me he had
a piece of good news: the remnant of his old company was to be here;
he had got hold of the last one, -- there were nine of them left, --
and he had his old jacket that he had worn in the war, and he was going
to wear it on the march. "It's worn, of course," he said, "but my mother
put some patches over the holes, and except for the stain on it
it's in good order. I believe I am the only one of the boys that has
his jacket still; my mother kept this for me; I have never got so hard up
as to part with it. I'm all right now. I mean to be buried in it."
I had never remarked before what a refined face he had;
his enthusiasm made him look younger than I had ever seen him.
I saw him on the day before the eve of the unveiling; he was as busy as a bee,
and looked almost handsome. "The boys are coming in by every train," he said.
"Look here." He pulled me aside, and unbuttoned his vest.
A piece of faded gray cloth was disclosed. He had the old gray jacket on
under his other coat. "I know the boys will like to see it," he said.
"I'm going down to the train now to meet one -- Binford Terrell.
I don't know whether I shall know him. Binford and I used to be
much of a size. We did not use to speak at one time; had a falling out
about which one should hold the horses; I made him do it, but I reckon
he won't remember it now. I don't. I have not touched a drop. Good-by."
He went off.
The next night about bedtime I got a message that a man wanted to see me
at the jail immediately. It was urgent. Would I come down there at once?
I had a foreboding, and I went down. It was as I suspected.
"No. 4" was there behind the bars. "Drunk again," said the turnkey,
laconically, as he let me in. He let me see him. He wanted me
to see the judge and get him out. He besought me. He wept. "It was all
an accident;" he had "found some of the old boys, and they had got to
talking over old times, and just for old times' sake," etc. He was too drunk
to stand up; but the terror of being locked up next day had sobered him,
and his mind was perfectly clear. He implored me to see the judge
and to get him to let him out. "Tell him I will come back here
and stay a year if he will let me out to-morrow," he said brokenly.
He showed me the gray jacket under his vest, and was speechless.
Even then he did not ask release on the ground that he was a veteran.
I never knew him to urge this reason. Even the officials who must have
seen him there fifty times were sympathetic; and they told me to see
the justice, and they believed he would let him out for next day.
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