Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars/5
Among my friends of those far-away days was Captain Stuart, who was the son of an able editor of the Charleston Mercury, and was a great-nephew of Sir John Stuart, who won the battle of Maida and who at his death was the nearest survivor of the royal family of Stuart. He served with me in the Mounted Rifles, and was one of the most interesting characters I have ever known. Handsome, and gentle as a woman, no soldier of our army surpassed him in courage and daring, and after two years of active service the commanding general said in his report of the last battle of the Mexican War, "Lieutenant Stuart of the Rifles, leaping the ditch, was the first American to enter the city of Mexico."
When the Mexican War was ended, and after I was ordered to West Point, our regiment made ready for service in Oregon, marched across the great plains, and occupied for the ensuing four years that wild and unknown region where there were then only a few venturesome people of the American and British fur-trading companies. At the end of its term of service, the Rifles were destined for the frontier of Texas, while the First Dragoons and other troops took their place in Oregon. The officers and non-commissioned officers were sent by sea back to the States, while our horses and the private soldiers, of whom not many remained, were transferred to the dragoons. Captain Phil Kearney, afterwards General Phil Kearney, who fell in the disastrous defeat of General Pope at Manassas, was selected to conduct the transfer of our horses, etc., and to aid him in his work he chose Captain John G. Walker and James Stuart. If there was any officer in our regiment equal to Stuart in conduct, it was Walker, and the two were close friends.
This interesting march seemed an indulgence and a trip of pleasure. The weather was fine, there seemed nothing likely to disturb them on the route, and their service being ended when California was reached, they, Stuart and Walker together, would return to their homes in the States, where Jamie hoped to find the lady of his love awaiting him. Their road to California lay through the country of the Rogue River Indians, but they were not known to be hostile, and every prospect seemed pleasant to these two comrades. The worst of their journey was over, when one night Walker was aroused by Stuart, who shared his tent. It was after midnight, and Stuart said he had not been able to sleep at all because of a conviction that his death was at hand. He could not rid himself of the feeling, and he wished Walker to see to it that the wishes he now desired to impart would be carried out.
In vain Walker tried first to laugh away all this as a sort of nightmare. Stuart agreed that it might be so, but he urged his friend to listen and to promise him to be the executor of his last request, to which Walker at last assented, little suspecting the catastrophe hanging over them. The next day's march justified Stuart's anxieties; for they found that the Rogue River Indians had begun hostilities, and came upon the trail of a large Indian war party, and preparations were immediately made to follow it and punish the hostiles. At their breakfast next morning, Stuart told of a vivid dream which had troubled him, - how an Indian warrior appeared at the door of the tent, drew his bow upon Walker first, and then changing his aim to Stuart, shot him through the body.
Kearney divided his command for the march and fight that day into two bodies, sending Stuart with his party down the river on the opposite side, where they came up with the enemy, charged, and scattered them. The chief seemed to surrender to Stuart, who ordered him to drop his bow, and to emphasize the order tapped him upon his head. Instantly the chief drove an arrow through Stuart’s body. He lived a few hours in great agony; his grave was made under a tree at the forks of the road, and carefully marked.
George B. McClellan, to whose cadet days I have already briefly referred, came to West Point at the age of fifteen years and seven months. He bore every evidence of gentle nature and high culture, and his countenance was as charming as his demeanor was modest and winning. His father, the celebrated Dr. McClellan, and his elder brother, Dr. John McClellan, were two of the ablest and best-educated men of their day, and he had been reared in their presence. I remember that it was about the middle of June, 1842, when we first met in the section room at West Point. The class was at first arranged according to alphabetical order, and our initial letters placed us for a brief space side by side. For a very brief space it was, for he pushed at once to the head, while I plodded along in the middle - that easiest and safest of positions - through all the long four years of my cadetship. At the end, Mac went into the Engineer Corps, and I, as I have said, into the Rifles. After the Mexican War, while we were both at West Point as instructors, we were, of course, daily associated together for several years, and a happy association it was. A brighter, kindlier, more genial gentleman did not live than he. Sharing freely in all the convivial hospitality of the mess, he was a constant student of his profession. Having been instructed in the Classics and in French before he came to the Academy, he learned Spanish and German there, and before he was sent to Europe to study and report upon the cavalry service of the great military powers of the world, he had acquired sufficient knowledge of the Russian language to enable him to make a satisfactory and valuable report. The excellent saddles and horse equipage ever since used in our service were introduced by him from the Cossacks. He was an excellent horseman, and one of our most athletic and best swordsmen. We rode and fenced together almost daily. His father gave him a handsome thoroughbred mare, and I had brought from Virginia a very fleet race mare. So long as my arm was in splints, she ran away with me whenever I rode her. Nobody else would ride her; but she threw me only twice in the four years, once by carrying me under a limb which swept me off over her tail, and again when she reared and fell over on me, which didn’t hurt me, while it gave great amusement to the crowded company of passengers on the steamer New World, before whom I had tried to "show off" as I galloped down to the wharf on my beautiful thoroughbred mare, arrayed in my best suit of cavalry clothes.
Mac and Mac's mare had no such foolishness about them. One bright, but bitter cold Christmas Day, he and I decided to escape the wassail of the Academy by riding over the mountains to Newburg. A heavy snow covered the ground, and the road was so slippery we had to lead our horses part of the way. About 11 A.M. we reached a little country church where Christmas services were being held. A number of handsome sleighs about the door bespoke a congregation of the gentlefolks of the country, and we decided to enter and join in the service. Over our uniforms we wore the heavy blue overcoats of the cavalry soldier. There were but few people in the church, so we modestly took our places in one of the many empty pews upon a side aisle. The service was progressing when the sexton, evidently indignant that private soldiers should intrude themselves into such a company as his congregation, marched us out of our position and back into one of the pauper pews of the church. We noticed that the rector paused on seeing this blunder on the part of his subordinate, and afterwards we were told how annoyed he had been by it. To us it was only a funny incident of a cold tramp.
We got back just at dusk, as the mess were sitting down to a rich Christmas dinner. We had seen nothing to eat or drink, save a glass of something hot at Newburg. Had that aristocratic congregation known it was the future general of the Army of the Potomac who was with them in their Christmas service, we might not have been so hungry and thirsty when we opened the mess-room door and called, "Newel, give us some champagne." Old George Thomas was then president of the mess, and a more genial and kindly president we never had. Everybody loved him, and he was at that time a Virginian before everything else. Franklin and Ruddy Clarke, Kirby Smith, G. W. Smith, Neighbor Jones, John M. Jones, W. P. de Janou, and a score of others were round that Christmas board, and joined in the burst of welcome as we broke in. I well remember that it was one of our jolliest, as it was our last, Christmas together; for before the year rolled around, we were scattered to our distant posts, never to meet again.
McClellan had the happiest faculty of acquiring knowledge I have ever known, and unlike most men who store up learning, he knew well how to use it when the occasion came. He would often sit late with a jovial party, and then go to study while we went to bed, and be up in the morning, bright as the brightest. His report of his observations in his inspections of the military establishments of Europe was of great value. He was present with the allied armies in the Crimea, and had the best opportunities of observing the relative position of the troops and their generals. He considered Omar Pasha the ablest of all those generals. It is well known that when the allies arrived on the field, Omar had already driven every Russian across the Danube, and left nothing for the allies to do. But in a council of war of the commanding generals, it was resolved that the eyes of Europe were upon them; that it would never do to let that infidel dog have all the credit; and that they must do something to eclipse the glories of the Turk. They resolved upon the invasion and occupation of the Crimea. We all remember how sad and unfortunate was the conduct of the affair, - how England, especially, showed so little aptitude for field operations against well-commanded and well- organized European troops, that she lost her prestige; and it was said the Emperor Napoleon had brought her into that business, in order that her inferiority as a war power might be demonstrated before the world.
Lord Raglan sailed for the Crimea with about twenty-six thousand troops. The debarkation of his army upon the Crimean coast occupied six days; and then he was several days’ march from Sebastopol, without any transportation for his supplies or one dollar of current money. McClellan had been with Scott when he landed fourteen thousand Americans within three miles of Vera Cruz in six hours, invested that city by the morning of the second day, and captured it in two weeks’ time. McClellan could only find in the splendid constancy of the British troops in the battle of Inkerman a justification of their claim to superiority. In marking out the lines of attack upon Sebastopol, the French took to themselves the right of the line, which, McClellan observed, was much more difficult to entrench than the left of the line, which the English occupied. Yet, upon the signal for assault, when the French, with MacMahon at their head, with his cap upon his sword, swarmed over the Russian defenses, the English, having several hundred yards of open ground to pass before reaching the Redan, were repulsed with heavy loss, until the French achieved such a position as enabled them to break the Russian defense and let their allies into the works. The capture of the city and works was but a small part of what lay before the allied army. The defenses of the north side seemed unassailable. McClellan believed that the death of Nicholas enabled his son, Alexander, to make peace when the allies had made their last effort, and thus the English army, under brave Sir Colin Campbell, was enabled to reach India in time to save that empire. The Sepoy revolt is now believed to have been the result of Russian machination. McClellan thought so then.
He was in the Crimea when the charge of the Light Brigade took place. So also was Colonel Jerome Bonaparte. He was captain of cavalry and aide-de-camp to General Maurice, who commanded the French cavalry upon that field. From McClellan, from Bonaparte, and from the contemporaneous newspaper reports, we learned of that affair, as follows. A short time before this date, the allied cavalry was drawn up in column, probably of squadrons, watching a heavy demonstration of Cossack cavalry. The British Heavy Brigade, under the command of General Scarlet, was in front of the column; next came the Light Brigade, Lord Cardigan; and Lord Lucan commanded the whole British division. The French cavalry, also in column of attack, was in rear of the British when Cossacks charged the infantry line, a regiment of Scottish Highlanders, part of Sir Colin Campbell’s command. The Highlanders poured a heavy fire from their line of battle upon the Cossacks, which staggered and confused them. At the same instant Lord Lucan ordered General Scarlet to "Charge those Cossacks with the Heavies," leaving his Light Brigade standing without orders. Cardigan felt he could not take the responsibility of moving without orders, and because the Light Brigade did not move, the French cavalry behind it could not, therefore the Cossacks got off with only the punishment administered by the "Heavies." There was much chaffing of the Light Brigade by their comrades, because of this incident. On Lord Raglan’s staff was a clever, ambitious cavalry major, Nolan, who was the apostle of the power of light cavalry. He had written a very clever book we young officers used to enjoy, which proved that light cavalry could deal with any sort of troops. He was greatly grieved by this lost opportunity. A short time after, Lord Raglan ordered an attack by all the British troops, and gave Major Nolan the paragraph from the order, saying, "The Light Brigade will charge and recapture the English guns." Some time before, the Russians had captured an English battery which was at this time parked with some twenty other field-pieces in front of where Lord Lucan’s cavalry was drawn up. The story goes that Nolan galloped off delighted, all too hastily, and gave the order to Lord Lucan, who, looking at the array of cannon about a mile away, exclaimed, "Charge what?"
"That," Nolan replied, adding bitterly, "Shall I show your lordship the way?" as he took his place at the head of the squadron. Lord Lucan, swearing no man but himself should lead his command, dashed past him and ordered the charge to be sounded, and away went the seven hundred fine British horses over the plain at a smashing gallop. The Russian batteries poured a heavy fire into them, and the Russian cavalry and infantry picked up such of them as got through the guns. General Maurice exclaimed: "That is magnificent, but that is not war! Go, Bonaparte, ask Lord Lucan what it means, and how I can help him."
At the same time several French squadrons were deployed, which drove back the pursuing Russians and covered the retreating English. Bonaparte found Lord Lucan in a great rage. "Means, sir!" he said. "It means that my brigade is destroyed, my son is killed, my nephew is killed"; and as some bearers carried Major Nolan’s body by, he added, "And it is well for that poor young man he lies there, for he would have a heavy reckoning with me for this day’s work. But tell him, by God, sir, I have the written order for it! Here’s the written order for it."
And so ended this famous charge, the result of a blunder. Fifty-two men and six officers were killed, and the usual proportion wounded out of about seven hundred.
While McClellan's sympathies were with the Southern States, in which were his kindred and warmest friends, he never wavered in his natural allegiance to Pennsylvania. Several years before the outbreak of the war, and soon after his return from the Crimea, he resigned his captaincy in the army to accept the presidency of the Mississippi Central Railroad, and in the winter of 1860-61 wrote me, then in Santa Fé, that while he knew the South was being wronged, and feared that war was inevitable, he would fight, if fight he must, for Pennsylvania, his native State. I could not blame him, for I, too, felt my paramount allegiance to Virginia. I confess I was surprised when, on my anxious and perilous journey home, I was met upon the plains by the tidings of McClellan’s victory in West Virginia, and his proclamation terming us "Rebels." But he was a high-toned, humane gentleman, and no words or acts of cruelty were ever attributed to him. After the war, we soon resumed our friendly relations, which were only terminated by his untimely death.
McClellan was no politician. He was a gentleman and a soldier of a very high order. Every feeling and instinct of his nature was averse to the character and war policy of the administration. Lincoln and Stanton required that the army should always be interposed between them and the Confederate capital. McClellan in vain pointed out to them that to capture Richmond, the army should operate from below it. Grant, three years later, urged the same base of operations, but Mr. Stanton replied that he must attack from the Washington side. Grant said, "If I do, I shall lose one hundred thousand men." Stanton assured him he should have them to lose. And now we know that he did lose over eighty thousand before he placed his army where he ultimately took Richmond.
McClellan possessed in a remarkable degree the confidence and love of his troops. This was manifested in an extraordinary manner when he came to General Pope’s routed army; it was in utter disorder. Generals Pope, McDowell, and the mob of defeated soldiers, were all crowding along the road to Alexandria, when "Little Mac" appeared. At once a change came over the soldiers. They knew Pope was no general, and they had more confidence in "Little Mac" than in any man alive. His assumption of command spread hope and joy throughout their ranks, which at once assumed shape and order, and in a few days McClellan had the Army of the Potomac in hand, and was marching it with precision and order to hinder Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. The army of northern Virginia encountered and defeated them, destroying three corps, and crossed the Potomac with all the rich stores captured in Pennsylvania, and moved on to new fields of glory. But the Capital was saved, and McClellan had saved it, and was then deposed. The army and the people followed him with their confidence and love. He ran for the Presidency upon a platform that was pacific and just, and would have spared our country the cruelty of Andrew Johnson's reconstruction.
It is difficult to compare McClellan with Grant; both men were kindly in nature, both were brave. While McClellan was personally as brave as Grant, and of a higher spirit, he seemed to lack that inflexible decision of opinion and purpose which bore Grant to his great fortune. While McClellan would be, and was, eminent amongst the highest characters and in the greatest affairs of peace or war, Grant seemed suited only to such a terrible occasion as brought him from his tannery into fame. But for the war, he would possibly have pursued to the end of his life his early calling.
Pennsylvania has in every war furnished many able soldiers to our armies, and it has been my good fortune to know some of them well, and to retain their friendship until this day. General William B. Franklin is of the highest class of Pennsylvania gentlemen. Like McClellan and Hancock, he was well born and educated, and combined the versatile capacity and attainments of the former with the sturdy character of the latter. We were both stationed at West Point as instructors, and our acquaintance ripened into a friendship which in its warmth and congeniality has often reminded me of that which united Warrington and Pendennis. It has survived through all the chances and changes of a lifetime. Franklin’s father was an able clerk of the House of Representatives, and by a happy lot he married the daughter of Matthew St. Clair Clarke, who succeeded his father in office, holding the position for many years. Such an illustration of congenial marriage as theirs is rarely seen. All these years they have together trod their journey, joying and giving joy to the same friends, having the same memories and the same firm faith in their life to come.
Hancock, a native of Pennsylvania, and Meade, who came of a Pennsylvania family, but was born in Spain, were high-toned gentlemen and great commanders. In fact, no State in the Union has produced so many great soldiers as Pennsylvania, save Virginia. And there are so many points of resemblance, and so many identities of soil, climate, character, and history between Virginia and Pennsylvania, that it seems as if we ought never to have been divided people or separate communities. In times long gone we co-operated in our common defense. When Braddock marched to free Pennsylvania from a cruel enemy, Washington was the pioneer of his army through the wilderness, while Ben Franklin was its purveyor. A generation later, when that scheme of civil liberty which blesses all mankind to-day was announced, it was cradled in Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvanians died in Virginia, and Virginians died in Pennsylvania, to establish it. The same climate blesses our whole territory, and the waters which fertilize the fields of Pennsylvania and bear her cereals to the sea flow through Virginia, too. And those blue mountains which beautify and have built up the prosperity of the one State, sweep down through the other as well. In both of these States no slavery can ever exist again, and all conditions impel them as one great people to co-operate for the common good of our common country.
Among those whom I found when I returned to West Point after the Mexican War, was young Jerome Bonaparte. He is a grandson of King Jerome who, when in Baltimore as a lieutenant in the French navy, married the beautiful Miss Patterson, a reigning belle of that city. The Emperor Napoleon disapproved of his brother’s marriage to one not of royal rank. Colonel Bonaparte's father, Mr. Jerome Bonaparte, for many years a distinguished member of society in Baltimore, was the only issue of the first marriage of King Jerome.
In 1854, Colonel Bonaparte was graduated at West Point, and entered C Troop of the Mounted Rifles, then serving at Fort Inge, Texas. After one or two years of frontier service, the Emperor Napoleon III, summoned him to France. He served in Algiers, in the Italian campaign, through the Crimean War, and in the war between France and Germany. On his return from the Crimea he came to Carlisle Barracks and paid us a visit; he had seen his first service under me in the Rifles. It was then that he gave me many interesting details of the military operations there which came under his personal observation, and to which I have briefly alluded. Colonel Bonaparte’s commanding appearance, the grace and gentleness of his demeanor, and his fine intelligence win for him the admiration of all who know him. He was held in high esteem by Louis Napoleon and his beautiful and unfortunate Empress.