Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars/19
To resume my narrative, the final day of our service for the Confederacy was one of the deepest gloom to us. The little army of Mobile had held steadfastly together with the dignity of men who had risked all from a higher motive, and we stood by each other to the last. My own deep sadness was cheered by the sympathy of the noble men who had been my comrades. Gibson's Louisiana brigade had been especially active and enduring in the defence of Spanish Fort; Ector's Texans, the Alabamians, and North Carolinians, and Massenbury's Georgians made up that steadfast little garrison. They were all around me now, and the Louisiana band, the only one left in the army, came to my encampment that evening and gave me their farewell serenade. The officers of the Louisianna regiments which had served with me longest came to my tent in a body and bade me an affectionate good by. The Federal major who relieved my quartermaster of his public property declined to receive my headquarters ambulance and team, and graciously urged that I should keep it for myself. This I declined to do; but when I found that it would be of great value to my destitute staff officers, I approved of their accepting it, and Flowerree, Dick Holland, and John Mason drove off in it to seek their fortunes.
On the evening of May 14th, our surrender was complete. A train loaded with paroled prisoners of war from Lee's army was going up the road that evening as far as West Point, and a crate car was added to it for me and my horse, all the property I possessed. The conductor told me it would not go further that night than West Point, and I would find hospitable entertainment for the night in the house of a leading gentleman of the town - Squire Collins. So just at sunset, when our destination was reached, I left Roy with the orderly who had faithfully remained with me thus far to take care of the horse and to help me, and set out to seek some shelter for the night.
I readily found the house, quite a handsome one, and on the veranda were several young gentlemen and a very handsome young lady in full conversation as I approached the gate. I was ashamed to ask for shelter, and had passed on, going eight or ten paces further, when I heard the gate latch rattle and a familiar voice call out, "General!" and I wheeled around to meet a fine looking young fellow, Captain Collins of Armsted's brigade. With hands extended, and hearty words of welcome, he claimed me as their guest for the night, introduced me to his very handsome sister (now Mrs. Dr. Curry of New York City), and made me home at once; and never was generous hospitality more welcome. There was a sumptuous supper with all the belongings of a well appointed table, an elegant bedroom, and a breakfast appropriate to such an establishment, and, above all, the sympathetic care of those charming people. It was the one green spot in all of that desolate time.
With many warm feelings we parted next morning, and I got again into my crate with Roy, and in an hour had reached Okolona, where I found one of our servants awaiting to conduct me to Mr. Clarke's residence, that kind friend having already sent for my family to stay with him until arrangements might be made for our future. As I mounted Roy, I raised my hat to the Confederates of Lee's army who filled the train, and they silently returned my farewell, showing deep sympathy and respect as I turned away. Our stay with Mr. Clarke lasted about two weeks. He was goodness itself. He sold Roy for $200 in greenbacks, the first I had ever seen. Roy was a noble chestnut sorrel of great power; he had cost $700 in gold, and was a present to me from an old friend General Cabell. Mr. Clarke said: "Now, General Maury, I have no money at all, but there's near a thousand bales of cotton in my gin house, and you just say how many you will accept to take you home and keep you till you find something to do; for you ain't going to to be kept down long, and I will give you a certificate to my Mobile correspondent that you have that many bales in my hands and he will give you the money on it."
Of course our objective was our home in Virginia. My father-in-law's home had escaped the general ruin and desolation, thanks to Burnside's kind heart, and all of his children and grandchildren were soon together there. My parole carried us meanwhile to New Orleans, where my good friend, Major Charles L. C. Dupuy, of my staff, met us, and also my kinsman, Mr. Rutson Maury, at whose house we were entertained. He had received instructions from his uncle, Mr. Rutson Maury of New York, to supply us with everything we might require. Commodore Maury, who was in London, had already sent me a generous check, when a noble hearted Southern woman came to me and put into my hand ten gold eagles, but I would not take her little store, being amply provided for by so many kind friends. Ten old friends and comrades offered me money. Some of these were personal strangers to me but remembered some little kindness shown them in the days of my power. General Dick Taylor was one of these, and with him came Mr. Payne, the close friend of Mr. Davis. Mr. Richard Owen, of Mobile, insisted that my wife should share a little store of gold he had saved for an emergency, and the family of Vasser, of Aberdeen, who were much attached to her, contributed each a bale of cotton apiece, nine bales in all, worth then eighty cents a pound, and sent it to their commission merchant to be sold for us; but we had already sailed, well supplied, and it was not until five or six years afterwards that I heard of this generous act.
Thank God, I can never arraign mankind for want of generosity, and it is with pride and gratitude that I record the hospitality and kindness which met me and mine on every hand throughout the war and its close. It was not my personality which called it forth, but it was the spontaneous outcome of the spirit which prevaded the whole South in all that sorrowful time, and which distinguishes it even unto this day. Not even the cruel vicissitudes of that bitter conflict could chill the sympathetic hearts and close the beneficient hands of our dear Southern people. Brave men and tender women are these who in the past have nobly borne their part, and whose names will be written with the saints, for of them it may be truly said "that they loved their fellow men."
I learned that the steamship Constitution would sail from New Orleans in a few days, and the quartermaster ordered transportation for us as far as New York upon her. There were a number of Federal officers who were passengers on her as well, and Captain Mehaffy, of the First United States Infantry, was the commander of the guard and all on board. He showed marked consideration and courtesy to all of us who were his prisoners; insisted that I and my family should have first choice of seats at the table and also of the staterooms, and when he overheard a Federal chaplain on board talking unpleasantly about the war to one of my staff officers, he cautioned him that if he again transgressed propriety in that way he would lock him in his stateroom. The old captain of the ship imbibed Mehaffy's generous spirit and, finding that we were all Virginians, he took the responsibility of changing the ship's destination to Old Point Comfort, and landed us there instead of New York. On parting, I formally thanked him and Captain Mehaffy for their considerate kindness in behalf of myself and my officers. Several times afterwards I met the latter gentleman and introdced him to friends in New Orleans, who were desirous of showing him courtesies. Mehaffy told me he had lived in Norfolk before the war, where his father owned a large foundry, and where he had learned to like Virginians.
On arriving in Richmond, Virginia. I called to pay my respects to General Lee, then living in a house on Franklin Street, in which we afterwards established the Westmoreland Club.
Captain William Lewis Maury, commander of the Confederate cruiser Georgia, went with me. I gave the general a written statement of my defence of Mobile, he having written to me with regard to it, and I felt it was proper to make my last report to him. At the same time I told him that a few days before leaving New Orleans, whither thousands of young Confederate soldiers had flocked, seeking employment, a Federal major on a streetcar had said to me: "I understand that these young men won't take the oath of allegiance to the United States. They can't find employment very easily until they do, and may get into trouble. I think their generals should set them an example and encourage them at once to take the oath and go to work." He had no idea that he was talking to a Confederate, for I had lain away all evidence of my recent rank and calling. When the major left the car, I continued in it until I reached General Beauregard, to whom, as also to General Taylor, I repeated the remark. They both earnestly agreed with his view, and told me they would at once set an example to their people. When I finished, General Lee said: "I am very glad you did that. It was what we must all do, and what I have already done." I said, "I will follow your example."
General Lee had a quiet way of giving admonition peculiarly his own. It was very effective sometimes, although he rarely censured any one. One day he had established his headquarters in the large country residence of a gentleman who had placed it at his service. A distinguished commander arrived with his corps and, accompanied by his aide-de-camp, reported to General Lee, who told him to bring the latter with him to the house, and to direct the rest of the staff to encamp on the lawn with his own staff. Soon after, dinner was served, consisting of bacon, and greens, and cornbread, to which was added a slice of fine roast beef sent to General Lee by a good lady of the neighborhood, on which the general hoped to mend his fare. They sat down to dinner, and General Lee inquired of his guest, "General, what may I offer you?" "Some of the bacon and greens, thank you." Then came the aid's turn. "Captain Smith, what will you have?" "Beef, if you please, General." General Lee suavely transferred the slice of beef to the young man, who calmly ate it up.
More than a year afterward General Lee arrived at the headquarters of the commander who had been his guest upon this occasion. When dinner was served, there happened to be a fine roast upon the table, and the aforementioned young beef-eater was present. When his host inquired of General Lee what he would have, the latter looked at the unfortunate aide-de- camp, and smilingly kindly replied, "I will thank you for a piece of that beef, if Captain Smith does not want all of it." He never showed temper in his rebukes, but they were all the more effective. On this occasion, he was as tender to the lad as if admonishing a son.
When General Lee did express displeasure, his method of administering a rebuke was usually salutary. During the fighting around Richmond, one of his officers, who had been placed in charge of certain lines, was frequently conspicious by his absence. This was especially noticeable whenever there was heavy firing about this post of duty. His staff were much mortified and disgusted bu the conduct of their chief, especially as they were aroused night after night just after they had fallen asleep, worn out with the hard service of the day, to receive couriers from their superior, comfortably housed in the city, demanding reports of the day's events. They had no idea that General Lee had observed all this, and were therefore surprised and delighted when one morning, as the recreant appeared, General Lee accosted him with intense sarcasm. "Good morning, General Blank. Are you not afraid to trust yourself so far from the city, and to come where all this firing and danger is?" "Oh! General, I am somewhere upon the lines every day." "Indeed? I am very glad to learn it. sir. Good morning, General Blank!" And he turned from him with a scorn as withering as his words.
When one of his commanders, from want of promptness, permitted a corps to escape, General Lee was very indignant, and said to him: "General, I have sometimes to admonish General Stuart or General Gordon against being too fast. I shall never have the occasion to find that fault with you."
A warm friendship existed between General Lee and a very gallant and handsome young officer, who was married to a lovely Virginia girl on the very night of the conflagration of Richmond. He did not see his old commander for some years after the war. When they did meet, General Lee greeted him with warm affection, and said, "How many children have you?" "Just four." -- "Are they girls or boys?" "All girls." -- "Well," said the general, "I love and revere and admire women, as you know, but do you go home and tell your wife she has done enough for the female line. I hope she will now go and have four boys to fight for their restored country in the next war." The gallent young colonel and his dutiful wife faithfully executed their general's commands, and now four lovely daughters and four sturdy sons solace the evening of their days.
Lee was very averse to office work. Colonel Walter Taylor, who was his adjutant throughout his great career, found it difficult to secure his attention to the accumulating reports of the army. One day he took the general a bundle of documents, reports, etc., for his examination. After going over a few of them, Lee, with an expression of impatience, tossed the rest aside, whereupon Taylor, whose own patience was exhausted, gathered them up and was about to retire, when General Lee said, in a gentle, repentant tone, "Stop, Colonel! When I lose my temper, I do not think you should let that make you angry," and forthwith addressed himself to the task before him, which he completed thoroughly and carefully. On one occasion his opinion upon Sherman's raid through Georgia was invited. "I have never understood," he said, "why General Sherman has been so much commended for that march, when the only question before him to decide was whether he could feed his army by consuming all the people had to eat."
General Lee was very fond of Stuart, who was also a great favorite of the ladies of the valley. Shortly before the battle of Brandy Station, Lee reviewed his cavalry corps. The young ladies of Culpepper had decorated Stuart's horse with flowers, placing a wreath around the charger's neck. When he had saluted, and rode up to take his place beside General Lee, the latter remarked: "Take care, General Stuart! That is the way General Pope's horse was adorned when he went to the battle of Manassas."
Lee rarely drank any liquor. One day General John G. Walker, a very able officer, reported to him with regard to some service he had performed. He was very tired, and could not refrain from glancing toward a very inviting looking bottle which was very suggestive of something comforting. The general observed it, and said: "You look fatigued. Take a drink. It will do you good." Walker cheerfully acquiesced, and taking a bottle, poured out a tumbler of cold buttermilk, the general smilingly enjoying his little sell the while.
The remarkable proclamation of amnesty promulgated by President Johnson required us to respond to fifteen separate disqualifications for citizenship and trustworthiness. My application was to the effect that in begging for pardon I confessed that I was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and a captain in the adjutant general's department of the United States Army; and finally I was to state whether I was the possessor of $20,000! After informing His Excellency of my guilt in the first two clauses, I stated, in order to thoroughly clear myself of the third, that I was the possessor of nothing save the ragged Confederate uniform in which I stood. I never heard from President Johnson.
About this time I received a letter from Admiral Buchanan, telling me he had not yet asked pardon because he could not bring himself to express regret for anything he had done. I showed the letter to General Joe Johnston, who said, in his terse way: "You don't have to express any regret. I have asked pardon and have expressed no regret. Oh, yes, I did, too. I requested that His Excellency would grant me a pardon, and expressed regret that I could offer no reason why he should."
After this I set out to follow my family, who had preceded me to Mr. Mason's home. The railroad ran only as far as Hamilton's Crossing, the track having been torn up beyond that point, and not yet replaced. The whole country had been wasted by war, and the condition of the people was fearful. The poverty stricken Confederate soldiers returning to their ruined homes found Federal garrisons in every county seat, sometimes white and sometimes negroes. All of our good men were destitute, and there were but a few who were not cast down in heart and spirit.
A stagecoach awaited the passengers for Fredericksburg at Hamiliton's Crossing, and into it I climbed with a Federal major and his wife, on the arrival of the train from Richmond. It had been raining, and the roads were very heavy. After a while the stage agent came to the door, followed by a respectable looking negro woman, and said, hesitatingly, "Can't this woman have a seat in there? It's a long and muddy walk to town." "No, indeed," said Mrs. Major. "No nigger woman shall sit beside me." "I will be d -- d if she shall sit by me," said the manly major. "Come and sit in here by me, old woman, " said I. "I've been riding by such as you for nearly forty years, and it is too late for me to put on airs now." And this little difference being amicably adjusted, we proceeded on our way.
I went at once to Mr. Mason's home, where I found all the family assembled. Many of the negroes had left, but a number of the field hands remained and were at work, making and gathering the crops of wheat and corn. One day, while Mr. Mason was busy superintending the working of his wheat machine, his arm was caught and drawn into the machinery and dreadfully crushed. He realized his own condition from the first, and said: "I have been faithful to my wife and faithful to my friends. Whether I have been faithful to my God, a few hours must now determine." He asked me to read Gray's "Elegy" to him, which I did.
It was a trying task. All of us children and grandchildren gathered about him until his death, which took place thirty-six hours after the accident. His presence and example were sorely missed, not only by those of his own household, but by the large circle of friends and associates to whom he was ever an exponent of much that most adorns a man.