Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars/12
We reached Richmond on July 19th, where all was in active preparation for war. I reported to the governor and to General Lee, commanding the forces in Virginia. I was much impressed by the grave and anxious aspect of General Lee, and remarked to Commodore Maury that it surprised and depressed me. He, too, had observed it. I was appointed Colonel of Cavalry of the Virginia forces, and ordered to report to Adjutant General Cooper. The same day I received my appointment as Captain of the regular Cavalry of the Confederacy, and Lieutenant - Colonel of their provisional army.
I told General Cooper that I would take my family to Fredericksburg, where my mother, whom I had not seen for two years, was living, and he replied that he would send my orders there.
The Sunday that I spent in Fredericksburg, we could hear all day the distant firing at Manassas. No orders had come yet for me, but I took the first train for Richmond. I had been apprehensive lest my wife or mother should hinder me from going into battle, but I never again had any anxiety on that score, for they seemed as solicitous as I that I should be in time for that engagement. On arriving at the adjutant general's office, I found that my orders had been sent to the Spottswood Hotel, where I had never been at all. But for this mistake, I would have reached Manassas in time for the great battle, for I was assigned to General Joseph E. Johnston, as his adjutant-general.
On my way up, I met people at every station who were full of news of the great victory. President Davis was on the down train, and had been in the battle, and from the platform of the car made a stirring speech to the exultant multitude. When I reached the field, the Federal dead were not yet all buried, and I remember well the horrid spectacle of near one hundred red-breeched Zouaves who lay about where the Confederates had captured a Federal battery, their swollen bodies and blackened faces making a ghastly contrast with their bright scarlet uniforms and gay trappings.
On my arrival, I immediately presented my orders to General Johnston. As he read them, he exclaimed with great emphasis: "This is an outrage! I rank General Lee, and he has no right to order officers into my army." Of course I was deeply mortified, and after an interval sufficient to allow him to grow calmer, I asked him to let me speak to him. He cordially assented, and, walking off from ear-shot of those about him, and placing his arm affectionately on my shoulder, said, "Maury, you know, or you ought to know, that I would rather have you in this office with me than any other man in the army, but I cannot accept any orders which will acquiesce in so unlawful an assignment of rank of the Confederate generals as had been made." As he spoke, he passed his arm over my shoulder, and showed great feeling for me.
I said: "I know nothing of this, and my position is a very embarrassing one. With your permission, I will go at once to Richmond and request assignment elsewhere." Which I did forthwith.
General Johnston recovered from his wounds at Jalapa in time to enter the valley of Mexico with General Scott, and bear his part in those battles. At Chapultepec, while leading his battalion, he was severely wounded again, making the ninth shot received by him in battle. On the disbandment of the voltigeurs, he was restored to the Topographical Engineers, where he served until 1854. When two new regiments of cavalry were added to our regular army, he was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the Second. In the course of four or five years, Johnston was made Quartermaster-General, with rank and pay of Brigadier-General, and the Senior Major promoted to his vacated Lieutenant-Colonelcy. The Confederate Congress made a law that all officers should hold rank in the Confederate army in accordance with that held in the United States army, and Johnston, as the only brigadier- general who came from the south, felt that he was entitled to be the senior general of the Confederate forces. But it was ordered that he should take position as if he had been a lieutenant-colonel. This placed him below Sidney Johnston, General Cooper, and General Lee, making him fourth in rank instead of first, and was naturally very galling to him, conscious as he was of his great powers and remarkable services.
I subsequently learned that after our interview at Manassas, General Johnston wrote to President Davis, protesting against the injustice of the existing state of affairs, and saying that he would raise no protest now nor until the independence of the Southern Confederacy should be achieved, when he would use all lawful means to have his rank fully established. The gauntlet then thrown down was accepted as a gauge of battle between the President and General Johnston, ultimately causing his removal from the command of the army of the Tennessee and the downfall of the Confederacy as many now believe. Johnston was critical, controversial, and sometimes irritable by nature, very exact in his statements, and possessed with a wonderful memory. Few men read so much as he, and none I had ever seen retained so accurately facts and impressions, or were so careful in the selection of the words to express their views. It is not probable that any man in our country had ever studied the histories and biographies of wars and warriors as had Johnston.
I find among my papers the following letter from General Johnston, which is interesting as giving his account of the campaign preceding his removal from the command of the army of the Tennessee:
My Dear Maury:
I have been intending ever since my arrival at this place to pay a part of the epistolary debt I owe you. But you know how lazy it makes one having nothing to do, and so with the hot weather we have been enduring here, I have absolutely devoted myself to idleness. I have been disposed to write more particularly of what concerns myself -- to explain to you, as far as practicable, the operations for which I was laid on the shelf, for you are one of the last whose unfavorable opinion I would be willing to incur.
You know that the army I commanded was that which, under General Bragg, was routed at Missionary Ridge. Sherman's army was that which routed it, reinforced by the Sixteenth and Twenty third Corps. I am censured for not taking the offensive at Dalton -- where the enemy, if beaten, had a secure refuge behind the fortified gap at Ringgold, or in the fortress of Chattanooga, and where the odds against us were almost ten to four. At Resaca he received five brigades, near Kingston three, and about 3500 cavalry; at New Hope Church one; in all about 14,000 infantry and artillery. The enemy received the Seventeenth Corps and a number of garrisons and bridge guards from Tennessee and Kentucky that has been relieved by "hundred-day men."
I am blamed for not fighting. Operations commenced about the 6th of May; I was relieved on the 18th of July. In that time we fought daily, always under circumstances so favorable to us as to make it certain that the sum of the enemy's losses was five times ours, which was 10,000 men. Northern papers represented theirs up to about the end of June at 45,000. Sherman's progress was at the rate of a mile and a quarter a day. Had this style of fighting been allowed to continue, is it not clear that we would have soon been able to give battle with abundant chances of victory, and that of the enemy, beaten on this side of the Chattahoochee, would have been destroyed? It is certain that Sherman's army was stronger, compared with that of Tennessee, than Grant's, compared with that of Northern Virginia. General Bragg asserts that Sherman's was absolutely stronger than Grant's. It is well known that the army of Virginia was much superior to that of Tennessee.
Why, then, should I be condemned for the defensive while General Lee was adding to his great fame by the same course? General Bragg seems to have earned at Missionary Ridge his present high position. People report at Columbus and Montgomery that General Bragg said that my losses had been frightful; that I had disregarded the wishes and instructions and instructions of the President; that he had in vain implored me to change my course, by which I suppose is meant assume the offensive.
As these things were utterly untrue, it is not to be supposed that they were said by General Bragg. The President gave me no instructions and expressed no wishes except just before we reached the Chattahoochee, warning me not to fight with the river behind us and against crossing it, and previously he urged me not to allow Sherman to detach to Grant's aid. General Bragg passed some ten hours with me just before I was relieved, and gave me the impression that his visit to the army was casual, he being on his way further west to endeavor to get us reinforcements from Kirby Smith and Lee. I thought him satisfied with the state of things, but not so with that in Virginia. He assured me that he had always maintained in Richmond that Sherman's army was stronger than Grant's. He said nothing of the intention to relieve me, but talked with General Hood on the subject as I learned after my removal. It is clear that his expedition had no other object than my removal and the giving proper direction to public opinion on the subject. He could have had no other object in going to Montgomery. A man of honor in his place would have communicated with me as well as with Hood on the subject. Being expected to assume the offensive, he attacked on the 20th, 22nd, and 28th of July, disastrously, losing more men than I had done in seventy-two days. Since then his defensive has been at least quiet as mine was.
But you must be tired of this. We are living very quietly and pleasantly here. The Georgians have been very hospitable. We stopped here merely because it was the first stopping-place. Remember us cordially to Mrs. Maury. Tell her the gloves arrived most opportunely. Mine had just been lost and it would have been impossible to buy more, and they are lovely. Just before I left the army we thought the odds against us had been reduced almost six to four. I have not supposed therefore that Sherman could either invest Atlanta or carry it by assault.
Very truly yours, J. E. Johnston
General Joseph E. Johnston Major-General Maury.
When Johnston took charge of the great army of Tennessee, which had been defeated and disorganized before arrival to its command, it was in wretched condition. Most of the general officers were in open hostility or avowed mistrust of the general commanding, and indiscipline prevailed throughout. When Johnston came, the change was instantaneous, and henceforth no army ever equaled Johnston's in drill and high discipline.
General Carter Stevenson was one of the division commanders of that army, a man of the largest experience in military accomplishments. He had served in every army of the Confederacy, and actively in all wars since 1834. He told me he had never seen any troops in such fine discipline and condition as Johnston's army the day he was removed from its command. General Randall L. Gibson had been in constant action in the Western army. He it was who closed an honorable record by his masterly command of the defenses near Spanish Fort, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, in the last great battle of the war between the States. He says that when Johnston assumed command of that army, it was somewhat demoralized, but when the campaign with Sherman opened, the worst regiment in it was equal to its best when he came to its command. A Missouri soldier of Cockrell's brigade, which Johnston declared to be the best body of infantry he ever saw, was on his way back to his regiment after recovery from a wound. I asked him, "What do you all think of the change of commanders?"
"Oh, sir, we are mightily cut down about it. The bomb-proofs and the newspapers complain of his retreats. Why, we didn't miss a meal from Dalton to Atlanta, and were always ready for the fight. We never felt we were retreating."
Just after Johnston's removal, General Wigfall passed Mobile, and sent a request to have me to come down to his steamer, for he wanted to have some talk with me. He was just from the army of the Tennessee, where he had been with Hood, Johnston having gone away. He spoke with his accustomed vigor relative to the charge of the commanders, saying: "Mr. Davis' favor was no less fatal to its objects than his animosities. That young man Hood had a fine career before him until Davis undertook to make of him what the good Lord had not done -- to make a great general of him. He has removed General Johnston and put Hood in his place. He has thus ruined Hood, and destroyed the last hope of the Southern Confederacy."
Several years after the war, the Legislature of Virginia ordered General Johnston's portrait to be painted by Elder and hung in the capitol of the State. I was asked to be present at the sittings, to keep him in conversation that the artist might have the advantage of the play of his features. The first day he discussed Napoleon, Marlborough, and Wellington. Ranking Napoleon above all great commanders since Caesar, he criticized him with great animation for more than half an hour. Marlborough he ranked as the greatest commander and statesman England ever produced. He inveighed bitterly against the partisanship of Macaulay, who accepted as authority contemporary disparagement of Marlborough, while he rejected the same authority as unworthy of credit when it assailed King William. The next day he discussed Lee, Jackson, and Forrest, and according to Lee and Jackson the full measure of their fame, he pronounced Forrest the greatest soldier the war produced. These discussions occupied each day the whole time of the sittings. He spoke uninterruptedly. Elder and I listened, and always regretted that his words and emphasis could not be recorded and preserved. The portrait is a good one, and it hangs in the rotunda with those of Lee, Jackson, Maury, and many another of Virginia's sons from colonial days until now.
At Seven Pines, when assured of victory, Johnston was stricken down by the severest injury he had ever received. A shell burst near him, breaking three of his ribs, and at the same time a rifle-ball pierced his shoulder blade. He fell from his horse, and was borne from the field to the residence of his friend, Mr. Cranshaw, where he lay until somewhat recovered from his eleventh and last wound. While lying there, he was the object of great interest and affection to all our people, who felt we were deprived, at a most critical time, of our great leader, who up to that time had evinced every capacity of a general, while Lee had not yet achieved success in the field. During this period, an old gentleman of Richmond called to pay his respects and express sympathy for our general. He said, "General, I not only deplore this because of the suffering it entails upon you, but I consider it a great national calamity." To his amazement, Johnston suddenly raised himself upon his elbow, and with his peculiar energy of expression said: "No, sir. The shot that struck me down is the very best that has been fired for the Southern Confederacy yet. For I possess in no degree the confidence of our government, and now they have in my place one who does possess it, and who can accomplish what I could never have done, -- the concentration of our armies for the defense of the capital of the Confederacy."
Dr. Fauntleroy, his medical attendant and the chief surgeon of the army, was present at this interview, which he related to me many years after, when Johnston was running for Congress, and when the opposition papers were disparaging him. Fauntleroy told me this while I was on my way to the White Sulphur, where General and Mrs. Johnston were established for the summer. I urged Fauntleroy to publish this characteristic anecdote in the Richmond Dispatch. He demurred, but I insisted that he owed it to the general to remind our people of those days when he endured so much for them, and he fully agreed to do it, stipulating that he should not sign his name to the story.
Accordingly, it came out in the next issue of the Dispatch, signed "Medicus." I went on my way to the Springs, well pleased with the part I had borne in this tribute to the old man. A few days afterward Johnston returned from his canvass, and was very bright and well satisfied with the progress of the contest. He hunted me up about dinner time, and said he had some fresh mint and good brandy at his cottage, where we would go, and his wife would make us a mint julep. On our way across the lawn, he was so cheery and pleasant that it seemed to me a favorable time to tell him of Fauntleroy's publication, and if he seemed greatly pleased I would impart to him my share in this friendly service. As I proceeded with my narrative, I observed an ominous silence come over him, with an increasing redness about his face and a peculiar twitching of his neck, premonitory of an explosion. Suddenly he stopped still, and in a fierce tone said, "Don't you think it an infamous outrage, sir, to publish a gentleman's name in the newspapers without his permission?" I did not remind him that his name had been daily for many months published in the newspapers without his permission, nor did I think it worth while to allude to the part I had borne in this "infamous outrage," but just went right along. In fact, I rather acquiesced in his views, and changed the subject, till Mrs. Johnston with her delicious juleps and hearty cordiality made us forget all the outrages of the world.
I have never known two people more devoted to each other than they were. Her health was not robust, and he watched over her illness with the greatest of tenderness, and at all times paid her the delicate attentions of a lover. I believe they had been married more than fifty years when her death occurred. It left him very desolate. They had no children, which was a great cause of regret to him, for he was very fond of children and especially so of mine. He told me one day with much feeling, "You are certainly blessed in your children."
One day, while living in Richmond, Mrs. Johnston stopped her carriage and asked me if I could tell her where her husband was. I went to seek him, and told him "the handsomest and brightest woman in Richmond was looking for her husband." Drawing himself up, he said, "There is but one woman in Richmond who answers to that description, and she is my wife. Where is she?" Soon after, he fell and hurt his leg seriously. When I went to see him, I found him with his crippled leg supported by a chair, and Mrs. Johnston, sitting by his side, was chaffing him. I told her she ought not to treat a husband so who adored her as he did, and related his compliment of a few days before. She laughed heartily at us both, saying he would never have said it if he had known that I would tell her.
She was a very bright and jovial and loved to banter him, and he enjoyed it all quite as much as she did. One summer we were at the Sweet Chalybeate with our families. The Johnstons occupied a two story cottage, and one morning we were chatting together on the upper portico and the general was narrating something with interest, when a wild shriek of fright came from the walk below. He looked over the railing, and in a moment had resumed his narration, when he was again interrupted by a yell. This happened a third time, when he looked down upon the frightened shrieker and called out to her fiercely, "Why don't you run away?"
I remarked, "That is fine advice to come from a great commander." He turned upon me. "Well, sir, if she won't fight, the best thing she can do is to run away, isn't it?"
Mrs. Johnston, with her hearty laugh, put in, "That used to be your plan, I know, sir." His fierce face relaxed into a hearty laugh, in which we all joined. A young woman in a red cloak and a turkey gobbler were the cause of the interruptions. The gobbler ran at her; she stood still and shrieked and shrieked again, till at last assistance came.
Johnston and I had traversed in Texas the beautiful Wild Rose Pass of the Guadalupe Mountains, through which for many miles the Lympia Creek finds its way. In places, the bare cliffs of basaltic rock rise twelve or fifteen hundred feet above the little stream. In other parts, beautiful wooded slopes stretch away for miles, so that the Lympia Canon has been for years the beautiful wonder of that route from San Antonio to El Paso. One day I asked him how he explained the power of that little stream to make a way for itself through the great mountain barrier, expecting some profound geological solution. I was answered when he said, "I presume the Power that could make the stream could make a way for the stream to pass, sir."
In the last year of his life, he consented to be a god-father to my little granddaughter, and we went to Richmond and occupied neighboring rooms at the hotel. I have rarely seen the general brighter or more cheerful. He played with the little child, ran up and down the halls with her, and held her in his arms during the entire service, after which he and the venerable pastor, the beloved Dr. Peterkin, stood long together by the chancel, in deep and earnest conversation. As he turned away, the general's eyes were moist. They both felt they were near the bourne they so soon passed. The Count de Paris and his suite were in Richmond at the time, and were honored with a reception at the home of Colonel Archer Anderson, who invited us to meet them. The general and the count soon drew off to one side, and for more than an hour were absorbed in earnest discussion of the vexed questions of war.
After our return trip to Washington, I visited him frequently, and he told me several times that his visit to Richmond was the happiest week he had enjoyed for many years. One day I found him reading an ancient folio, the writings of Tamerlane, Timour the Tartar. He read to me many pages, with great interest to us both. On another day he was reading Thier's history in the original, and read aloud with much feeling the narrative of the last days and death of Napoleon. Soon after, he contracted a dangerous cold, and gradually sank.
Five or six days before he died, I called to see how he was. As I entered the room, he beckoned from the lunch table for me to come and sit beside him. Open on the table near him lay the memoirs of Du Guesclin. He was quite ill then, and soon took to his bed, from which he never arose, and where he calmly and serenely received the last sacrament of the church. As I bade him farewell, I said "Good-by," as cheerfully as I could, adding:" I go to Texas tomorrow. We will soon meet again."
"Yes," he replied, with marked emotion, "we surely shall meet again".