Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 32.djvu/105

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93
Sheridan's Bummers.

The old Valley suffered much and long- during the war. She was the battle ground for the contending armies. Her rich lands helped to feed the Confederates and her splendid barns were warehouses to supply forage.

Sheridan, acting under Grant's order, determined to desolate this fair section, so that in the language of the instructions, "a crow could not fly from one end to the other without carrying his rations." And right well did he carry out Grant's order. Several hundred of those new barns were burned with all they contained. On three roads the barnburners went, and, by day, the smoke, like a funeral pall, hung overhead, and by night the lurid flames lit up the whole country. And these fiends were mercenary in their hellish work. Dividing into two parties, one would go before and ask the owner what he would give them not to burn his barn. Grasping at a straw, and not thinking of treachery, he would bring forth hidden treasure of gold and silver, and sometimes as high as $300 to save his property. This party, having bled the owner, galloped on and then came party number two. They applied the match, and rode on to share the ill-gotten gains.

When the fires of Chambersburg painted the sky reel, then were the barns of the Shenandoah avenged.

Finally, peace again smiled on the stricken Valley. Ruined homes were soon rebuilt, the barns went up as if by magic, the stout fences were repaired, and every trace of war vanished. And the stranger as he now sees it in its fruitfulness and beauty is reminded of the lines of the poet:

"A land of fading herds and fruitful fields,
All joys that peace and plenty yield;
Earth's sweetest flowers here shed perfume,
And here earth's fairest maidens bloom."

Alex. S. Paxton.