George William Bagby.

Selections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) online

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along, pausing at every station to let the girls see us,
give us bouquets and wave their handkerchiefs at us.
Being an invalid, I was allowed a seat in a passenger
car with the officers, but as the hot May afternoon
wore away I felt worse and worse. It was night
when we reached Gordonsville, seventy-six miles
from Richmond, and then occurred a long halt..
Dr. Chalmers, who had heard me complain about my
throat, came to my seat and felt my pulse.

" You have decided fever," said he, u and the best
thing you can do is to get out here and lie over
till you get well. I will leave some medicine with

Words more welcome never issued from mortal
lips no, not even when my lady-love said "yes.' r
There w T as a good hotel at Gordonsville it is there
now, and I never pass it without a benediction
kept by a man named Omohundro, who was called
" M'hundrer " for short. Into that hotel, and up stairs
to a second story room, I hurried with all speed.
"Wouldn't I have supper?" inquired M'hundrer.
No, but a bucket or a tub of hot water by a negro

The bathing over how I enjoyed it ! I dismissed
the boy, put on a night shirt that had been dying for
three weeks at least I had been dying for it blew
out the light, a wood fire was on the hearth, and got
into bed. The sweet languor of fever was on me,.


the warm bath had softened my whole nature, bodily
and spiritually, my skin began to breathe once more,
the odor of the clean pillow cases was more delicious
than roses or lilies, and as I stretched myself out at
full length I actually tasted the clean sheets clear
down to my toes. You may talk about happiness^
but there is no greater happiness than I experienced
Sii that moment. What heaven may be I know not,
but that was heaven enough for me. I blessed Chal-
mers for advising me to stop, blessed the negro boy,
blessed M'hundrer, the hot water, the pillows, the
sheets, the whole world, and went to sleep vowing
that never again while life lasted would I sleep in
anything but clean sheets, be the consequences what
they might to the Southern Confederacy.

I remained there two or three days, taking as little
-medicine as possible and getting well as slowly as
possible. During my stay a number of trains went
by on their way to Richmond, laden with the spoils
-of the arsenal and workshops at Harper's Ferry-
guns, ammunition and machinery that was invaluable
to us.

I believe that Garland found Captain Lay with a
part of the Powhatan troop at Manassas certainly
the place had been picketed for a few weeks but
that was all. Its strategic importance seemed to
have been overlooked. On my arrival I found the
boys comfortably quartered in tents and enjoying the
-contents of boxes of good things, which already had
begun coming from home. In a little store at the
station they had discovered a lot of delicious cherry


brandy, which they were dispatching with thought-
less haste. Rigid military rule was not yet enforced,
and the boys had a good time. I saw no fun in it. The
battalion drill bore heavily upon me ; Garland con-
stantly forgot to give the order to shift our guns from
a shoulder to a support. This gave me great pain,
made me very mad and threw me into a perspiration,
which, owing to my feeble circulation, was easily
checked by the cold breeze from the Bull Run Moun-
tain, and thereby put me in jeepardy of pneumonia.
Moreover, I longed for my night shirt and the clean
bed at Gordonsville. The situation was another
source of trouble to me. After brooding over it a
good while I got my friend Latham to write, at my
dictation, a letter to John M. Daniel's paper, the
Richmond Examiner. The letter was not printed,
but handed to General Lee, and additional troops
began to come rapidly one or two South Carolina
regiments, the First Yirginia regiment, Captain
Shield's company of Richmond Howitzers, Latham's
Lynchburg Battery, in all of which, except the regi-
ments from South Carolina, we had hosts of friends.
The more men the sicker I got, and the further re-
moved from that solitude which was the delight of
my life. I made up my mind not to desert, but to
get killed at the first opportunity. I might get a
clean shirt, and would certainly get, in the grave, all
the solitude I wanted.

Beauregard soon took command. This was a com-
fort to us all. We felt safe. About this time, too,
the wives a-nd sisters of a number of officers came


from Lynchburg on a visit to the camp. That was
great joy to us all. Lieutenant Latham's little son,
barely two years old, and dressed in full Rifle Grey
uniform, was the lion of the hour. The ladies looked
lovely. Such a relief after a surfeit of men ; our
eyes fairly feasted on them. Other ladies put in an.
appearance from time to time. Returning from
Bristoe, where I had gone to bathe, my eyes fell on
three of the most beautiful human beings they had
ever beheld. Beautiful at any time and place, they
were now inexpressibly so by reason of the fact that
women were such a rarity in camp. They were bright
figures on a background of many thousand dingy, not
to say dirty, men. If I go to heaven I hope I may
the angels themselves will hardly look more lovely
than those young ladies did that solitary afternoon.
I was most anxious to know their names. They
were the Misses Carey Hetty and Jennie Carey, of
Baltimore, and Constance, their cousin, of Alexan-
dria. No man can form an idea of the rapture which
the. sight of a woman w r ill bring him until he absents
himself from the sex for a long time. He can then
perfectly understand the story about the ecstatic
dance in which some California miners indulged
when they unexpectedly (fame upon an old straw
bonnet in the road. Pretty women head the list of
earthly delights.

Over and over I heard the order read at dress
parade, all closing with the formula, "by command
of General Beauregard, Thomas Jordan, A. A. G."
This went on for some weeks without attracting any


special attention on my part. At last some one said
in my hearing : " Beauregard's adjutant is a Yir-
ginian." I pricked up my ears. "Wonder if he
can be the Captain Jordan I knew in Washington ?
I'll go and see," I said to myself. Colonel, after-
wards General, Jordan received me most cordially,
dirty private though I was. He was, as usual, very
busy. " Sit down a moment. I want presently to
have a little talk with you." My prophetic soul told
me something good was coming, and when, after
some preliminary talk about unimportant matters, he
said: "So you are a 'high private in the rear rank?' ' :

" Yes," was my reply.

"Aren't you tired of drilling?"

"Tired to death."

" Well, you are the very man I want. Certain
letters and papers have to be written in this office
which ought to be done by a man of literary train-
ing, and you are just that person. I'll have you de-
tailed at once, and you must report here in the morn-
ing. Excuse me now, I am very busy." Indeed,
he was the busiest man I almost ever saw, and to-
day in the office of the Mining Record^ of New York,
he is as busy as ever. A more indefatigable worker
than General Thomas Jordan it would be hard, if not
impossible, to find.

My duties at first were very light. I ate and slept
in camp as before, reported at my leisure every morn-
ing at headquarters, and did any writing that was re-
quired of me, General Jordan's clerks being fully
competent to do the great bulk of the work in his


office. The principal of these clerks was quite a
young man, seventeen or eighteen, perhaps, and was
named Smith Clifton Smith, of Alexandria, Ya.
and a most assiduous and faithful youth he was. He
is now a prosperous broker in New York. After
midnight Jordan was a perfect owl ; there were al-
ways papers and letters of a particular character, in
the preparation of which I could be of service. We
got through with them generally by one A. M., then
had a little chat, sometimes, though not often, a glass
of whiskey and water, and then I went back to camp,
a quarter of a mile off, not without risking my life
at the hands of a succession of untrained pickets. At
camp things were comparatively comfortable. The
weather was so warm that most of the men pre-
ferred to sleep out doors on the ground. I often
had a tent to myself. Troops continued to come.
Many went by to Johnston (who, to our dismay, had
fallen back from Harper's Ferry), but many stayed.
Water began to fail, wells in profusion were dug,
but without much avail, and water had to be brought
by rail. Excellent it was. Boxes of provisions con-
tinued to come in diminishing numbers, but upon the
whole we lived tolerably well. The Eleventh Vir-
ginia, its quota now filled, had gone out on one or
two little expeditions without material results. It
formed part of Longstreet's Brigade, and made a fine
appearance and most favorable impression in the first
brigade drill that took place. How thankful I was
that I was not in it !

During these days when the camp of the Eleventh


Yirginia was comparatively deserted, the men being
detailed at various duties, there occurred an episode
which will never be forgotten by those who witnessed
it. Coming down from headquarters about one o'clock
to get my dinner, I became aware as soon as I drew
nigh our tents that something unusual was "toward,"
.as Carlyle would say. Sure enough there was. In
addition to the ladies from Lynchburg, heretofore
mentioned, we had been visited by quite a number of
the leading men of that city, who came to look after
their sons and wards. Several ministers, among them
the Rev. Jacob D. Mitchell, had come to preach for
us. But now there was a visitor of a different stripe.
The moment I got within hailing distance of the
captain's tent I heard a loud hearty voice call me by
my first name.

"Hello ! George, what'll you have ? Free bar. Got
^very liquor you can name. Call for what you please."

Looking up, I beheld the bulky form, the dusky-
red cheeks and sparkling black eyes of Major Daniel
Warwick, a Baltimore merchant, formerly of Lynch-
burg, who had come to share the fortune, good or ill,
of his native State. He was the prince of good fel-
lows, a bon vivant in the fullest sense of the term, a
Falstaff in form and in love of fun. What he said
was literally true, or nearly so ; he had all sorts of
liquors. In order to test him I called for a bottle of
London stout.

" Sam, you scoundrel ! fetch out that stout.

How'll you have it plain ? Better let me make you
a porteree this hot day."


" Very good ; make it a porteree."

He was standing behind an improvised bar of bar-
rels and planks, set forth with decanters, bottles,
glasses, lemons, oranges and pine apples, with his
boy Sam as his assistant. The porteree, which was
but one of many that I enjoyed during the Major's
stay, was followed by a royal dinner, contributed
almost wholly by the Major. This was kept up for a
week or ten days, officers and men of the Lynchburg
companies and invited guests, some of them quite
distinguished, all joining in the prolonged feast, which
must have cost the Major many hundreds of dollars..

The Major's inexhaustible wit and humor, his
quaint observations on everything he saw, his san-
guine predictions about the war and his odd behavior
throughout, were as much of a feast as his eatables
and drinkables. He was the greatest favorite imagin-
able. Everything was done to please him and make
him comfortable, including a tent fitted up for him.
Being much fatigued by his first day's experience as
an open barkeeper, he went to bed early, the boys
all keeping quiet to insure his sleeping. Within
twenty minutes they heard him snoring, and the next
thing they knew the tent burst wide open and out
rushed the corpulent Major, clad only in his shirt,
and as he came he shouted at the pitch of his sten-
torian voice: "Gi' me a'r (air), gi' me a'r! For
God's sake, gi' me a'r !" Of course there was a uni-
versal burst of laughter, which the Major bore with
perfect good nature. Thenceforth he slept on a
blanket under the canopy of heaven, enjoying it as


much, lie declared, as a deer hnnt in the wilds of
Western Virginia. He carried with him when he
left the God-speed of hundreds of hearts grateful for
the abundant and unexpected happiness he had
brought them.

This was that same Major who cut up such pranks
in New York city a few months after the war ended
picking up a strong negro on the street and forc-
ing him to eat breakfast with him at the Prescott
House, imperiously ordering the white waiters to at-
tend to his every want, then walking arm in arm
Tvith the negro down Broadway, each having in his
mouth the longest cigar that could be bought, and
puffing away at a great rate, to the intense disgust
of the passers-by. Of this freak I was myself eye-
witness. In the restaurants he would burst out with
Si lot of Confederate songs, and keep them up till
scowls and oaths gave him to understand that it
would be dangerous to continue, when he would
suddenly whip off into some intensely loyal air, leav-
ing his auditors in doubt whether he was Union or
secesh, or simply a crank. In the street cars and
omnibuses he would ostentatiously stand up for negro
women as they entered, deposit their fare, gallantly
help them in and out, taking off his hat as he did,
and bitterly inveighing against those who refused to
follow his example. So pointed were his insults that
his huge size alone saved him from many a knock
down. He lived too merrily to live long, and died
in Baltimore in 1867, I believe.

Ever since the fall of Sumter Beauregard's star


had been in the ascendant. His poetical name
seemed to carry a magical charm with it. Jordan
had implicit faith in him. Many others looked upon
him as likely to be the foremost military figure of
the war, and were prepared to attach themselves to
his fortunes. Keeping my place as a private detailed
for duty in the Adjutant's office, I contented myself
with a simple introduction to the General, and did
not presume to enter into conversation with him a
privilege most editors would have claimed. [I was
then editor of the Southern Literary Messenger.'} But
I availed myself of my opportunity to study this pro-
minent character in the pending struggle. His
athletic figure, the leonine formation of his head,
his large dark-brown eyes and his broad, low fore-
head indicated courage and capacity. Of his men-
tal calibre I could not judge, but others spoke
highly of it. He indefatigably studied the country
around Manassas, riding out every day with the
engineer officers and members of his staff. He was
eminently polite, patient and good-natured. I never
knew him to lose his temper but once, and then the
occasion was ludicrous in the extreme.

Just before the battle of Manassas the militia of
all the adjoining counties were called out in utmost
haste to swell our numbers. A colonel of one of
the militia regiments, arrayed in old style cocked hat
and big epaulettes, came up a morning or two before
the battle and asked to see the General. When
General Beauregard appeared, he said with utmost
sincerity :


" General Beauregard, my men are mostly men of
families. They left home in a hurry, without enough
coffee pots, frying pans and blankets, and they would
like, sir, to go back for a few days to get these things
and to compose their minds, which is oneasy about
their families, their craps and many other things.'"'

Beauregard's eyes flashed fire.

" Do you see that sun, sir ?" pointing to it.

" Yes, sir," said the Colonel, in wondering timidity.

" Well, sir, I might as well attempt to pull down
that sun from heaven as to allow your men to re-
turn home at a critical moment like this. Go tell
your men to prepare for battle at any instant. There
is no telling when it may come."

The Colonel retreated in confusion.

Beauregard's high qualities as an engineer most
signally proved by his subsequent defence of Charles-
ton, compared with which the reduction of Sumter
was a trifle were acknowledged on all hands. What
he would be at the head of an army in the open field
remained to be seen. It was a trying time for him ;
but if he were nervous no one discovered it.

His staff was composed mostly of young South
Carolinians of good family, and he had in addition a
number of volunteer aids, all of them men of distinc-
tion. Ex-Governor James Chestnut was one, I think.
William Porcher Miles, an accomplished scholar and
elegant gentleman, I am sure was. So was that grand
specimen of manhood, Colonel John S. Preston ; also,
Ex-Governor Manning, a most charming and agree-
able companion. His juleps, made of his own dark


brandy and served at midday in a large bucket, in
lieu of something better, greatly endeared him to us
all. 'One day all these distinguished gentlemen sud-
denly disappeared. Colonel Jordan simply said they
had gone to Richmond ; but evidently something was
in the wind. What could it be? On their return,
after a week's absence, as well as I remember, there
was an ominous hush about the whole proceeding.
Nobody had anything to say, but there was a graver,
less happy atmosphere at headquarters. Gradually it
leaked out that Mr. Davis had rejected Beauregard's
proposal that Johnston should suddenly join him and
the two should attack McDowell unawares and unpre-
pared. The mere refusal could not have caused so
much feeling at headquarters. There must have been
aggravating circumstances, but what they were I
never learned. All I could get from Colonel Jordan
was a lifting of the eyebrows, and "Mr. Davis is a
peculiar man. He thinks he knows more than every-
body else combined."

What ! want of confidence in our president, at this
early stage of the game ? Impossible ! A vague
alarm filled me. I had been the first the very first,
I believe to nominate Mr. Davis for the Presidency ;
had violated the traditions of the oldest Southern lit-
erary journal in doing so. I had no personal know-
ledge of his fitness for the position. No. But his
record as a soldier in Mexico, his experience as Min-
ister of War, and his fame as a statesman, seemed to
point him out as the man ordained by Providence to
be our leader. And now so soon distrusted ! 1 tried


to dismiss the whole thing from my mind, it dis-
tressed me so. But it would not down at my bid-
ding. Many prominent men came to look after the
troops of their respective States, sometimes in an offi-
cial capacity, sometimes of their own accord. Among
them was Thomas L. Clingman, of North Carolina,
with whom I had a slight acquaintance. How it
came about I quite forget, but we took a walk, one
afternoon, down the Warrenton road, and fell to talk-
ing about the subject uppermost in my thoughts
Mr. Davis. Clingman seemed to know his character
thoroughly, and fortified his opinions by facts of re-
cent date at Montgomery and Richmond. Particu-
lars need not be given, if, indeed, I could recall
them ; but the upshot of it all was, that in the opinion
of many wise men the choice of Jefferson Davis as
President of the Confederate States was a profound,
perhaps a fatal, mistake. Unable to controvert a sin-
gle position taken by Clingman, my heart sank low,
and never fully rallied, for the sufficient reason that
Mr. Davis' career confirmed all that Clingman had
said all and more.

As the plot thickened, so did occurrences in and
:around headquarters. Beauregard kept open house,
.as it were, many people dropping in to the several
meals, some by invitation, others not. The fare was
plain, wholesome and abundant, rice cooked in South
Carolina style being a favorite dish for breakfast as
well as dinner. The new brigadiers also dropped in
upon us from time to time. One of them was my
old school-mate, Robert E. Rodes, a Lynch burger by


birth, but now in command of Alabama troops. In
him Beauregard had special confidence, giving him
the front as McDowell approached. Rodes was
killed in the Valley in 1864, a general of division,
full of promise, a man of ability, a first-rate soldier.
Lynchburg has reason to be proud of two such men
as Garland and Rodes. Soldiers continued to arrive^
As fast as they came they were sent toward Bull
Run, that being our line of defence. Some regi-
ments excited general admiration by their fine per-
sonal appearance, their excellent equipment and
soldierly bearing. None surpassed the First Vir-
ginia Regiment in neatness or in drill in truth, few
approached it. The poorest set as to size, looks and
dress were some of the South Carolinians. Louisiana
sent a fine body of men. But by odds the best of
our troops were the Texans. Gamer men never
trod the earth. In their eyes and in their every
movement they showed fight, and their career from.
first to last demonstrated the truth, in their case at
least, of the old Latin adage, " Vultus index est
animi" the face tells the character. I verily be-
lieve that fifty thousand Texans such as those who
came to Virginia, properly handled, could whip any
army the North could muster.

But as a whole our men did not compare with the
Union soldiery. They were not so large of limb, SO'
deep in the chest or so firm-set, and in arms and.
clothing the comparison was still more damaging to
the South. A friend of mine, who lingered in
Washington till he could linger no longer, halted a.


day at Manassas on his way to his old home in Cul-
peper county. With great pride I called his atten-
tion to Hays' magnificent Louisiana regiment, one
thousand four hundred strong, drawn out full length
at dress parade. He shook his head, sighed heavily,
and described the stout-built, superbly equipped men
he had seen pouring by thousands upon thousands
down Pennsylvania avenue. This incident made lit-
tle impression 011 me at the time, my friend being of
a despondent nature ; but after my talk with Colonel
Clingman it returned to me, and, I confess, de-
pressed me not a little.

The camps were now deserted, the regiments being
picketed on Bull Run. It was painful for me to go
among the empty tents ; it was like wandering about
college in vacation nay, worse, for it was morally
certain that some, perhaps many, would return to the
tents no more. I missed the faces of my friends;
I longed for the lemonade "with a stick in it" that
Captain Shields and Dr. Palmer used to give when-
ever I made them a visit, and I really pined for the
red shirt and cherry voice of Captain H. Grey
Latham, as he went from tent to tent, telling them
new jokes, and on leaving, repeating his farewell
formula, "Yours truly, John Dooley," which actu-
ally got to be funny by perpetual repetition and be-
came a by-word throughout the army. Finally I got
so sick of the deserted camp that I asked Clifton
Smith to let me share his pallet in the little shed-
room cut off from the porch at headquarters. He
kindly assented, and I moved up, but still took my


meals at camp. Doleful eating it would have been
but for the occasional presence of my dear friend,
Lieutenant Woodville Latham, who, being judge of
a court-martial then in session, had not yet joined
the Eleventh Virginia at Bull Run.

The nights were so hot that I found it almost im-
possible to sleep in Clifton Smith's little shed-room.
My mind was excited by the approaching battle, and
my habit of afternoon napping added to my sleep-
lessness. So the little sleep I got was in a chair in
the porch. Near me, on the dinner table, too long
for any room in the house, lay young Goolsby, a lad
of sixteen, who acted as night orderly. The calls
upon him were so frequent and the pain of being
awakened so great, that finally I said to him : " Sleep
on, Goolsby, I'll take your place." He was very
grateful. So I played night orderly from 12 o'clock
till 6 A. M. thenceforward, and on that account slept
the longer and the harder in the afternoon. Near
sunset on the 18th I arose from Smith's pallet in the
shed-room, washed my face and walked out upon
the porch. It was filled with officers and men, all
looking toward Bull Hun. One of them said :

" That's heavier firing than any I heard during the
war in Mexico."

"It was certainly very heavy," was the reply,
"but it seems to be over now."

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Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 25 of 27)