George William Bagby.

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

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And that is all I know about the battle of the 18th.
I had slept through the whole of it ! Major Harrison,
of our regiment, was killed ; Colonel Moore, of the
First Virginia Regiment, and Lieutenant James H.


Lee, of the same regiment, were wounded, the latter
seriously, as it turned out. There were no other casu-
alties that particularly interested me.

Every one knew the ordeal was at hand. The
movements preceding the great tragedy had the
hurry and convergence which belong to all catas-
trophes. A confused mixture of memories is left
me things relevant and irrelevant. L. W. Spratt r
Thomas H. Wynne, Mrs. Bradley T. Johnson, the
big guns of the entrenched camp ; the night arrival
of Johnston's staff, the parting with my friend
Latham all these and many more recollections are
piled up in my mind. Beauregard's plan of battle
had been approved by General Johnston. Ewell was
to attack McDowell's left at early dawn, flank him,
and cut him off from Washington, our other brigades
from left to right co-operating. Until midnight and
later all of Colonel Jordan's clerks were busy copy-
ing the battle orders, which were at once sent off to
the divisions and brigades by couriers. I myself
made many copies. The last sentence I remember
to this day; it read as follows: "In case the enemy
is defeated he is to be pursued by cavalry and artil-
ery until he is driven across the Potomac." He
needed no pursuit, but went across the Potomac all
the same. No, not all the same. Had we followed
in force the result might have been different. I sat
up as usual that night, but recall no event of interest.

As morning dawned, I wondered and wondered
why no sound of battle was heard none except the
distant roar of Long Tom, which set the enemy in


motion. How Ewell failed to get his order, how our
plan of battle failed in consequence, and how near we
came to defeat, is known to all. 'Tis an old, and to
Confederates, a sad story.

On the morning of the 18th, as Beauregard walked
out to mount his horse, he stumbled and came near
falling a bad augury, which, we thought, brought a
shadow over his face. But on this morning, the
21st, all went well; the generals and their staffs,
after an early breakfast, rode off in high spirits, vic-
tory in their very eyes. My duty was to look after
the papers of the office, which had been hastily
packed up, and, in case of danger, see that they were
put on board a train, which was held in readiness to
receive them and other valuable effects. The earth
seemed to vomit men ; they came in from all sides.
Holmes, from Fredericksburg, at the head of his
.division, in a high-crown, very dusty beaver, I well
recollect. He made me laugh. Barksdale, of Missis-
sippi, halting his regiment to get ammunition. The
militia ensconced behind the earthworks of the en-
trenched camp, their figures flit before me. It was a
superb Sabbath day, cloudless, and at first not very
hot. A sweet breeze from the west blew in my face
&s I stood on a hill overlooking the vale of Bull Run.
I saw the enormous column of dust made by the
nemy as they advanced upon our left. The field of
battle evidently would be where the comet, then il-
luminating the skies, seemed to rest at night. Re-
turning to headquarters I reported to Colonel Jor-
dan the movement upon our left.


"Has McDowell done that?" lie asked, with ani-
mation. "Then Beauregard will give him all his
old boots, for that is exactly where we want him."

The Colonel meant that Ewell would have a better
chance of attack by reason of the weakening of Mc-
Dowell's left.

Again and again I walked out to watch the pro-
gress of the battle, which lasted a great deal longer
than I expected or desired. The pictures of battles
at a distance, in the English illustrated papers, give a
good idea of what I saw, minus the stragglers and the
wounded, who came out in increasing numbers as the
day advanced, and disheartening President Davis as
he rode out to the field in the afternoon. At noon or
thereabouts, a report that our centre had been broken
hurried me back to headquarters, and although the
report proved false, kept me there for several hours,
the battle meanwhile raging fiercely, and not a sound
from Ewell.

Restless and excited, I went into a neighboring
house, occupied by a lone woman, who was in a peck
of trouble about herself, her house, her everything.
The bigger trouble outside filled my mind during the
recital of her woes, so that I now recall none of them.

Unable longer to bear the suspense, I left import-
.ant papers, etc., to take, care of themselves, and set
out for the battle-field, determined to go in and get
j*id of my fears and doubts by action. I reached the
hill which I had so often visited in the morning, and
paused awhile to look at some of our troops, who
were rapidly moving from our right to our left. Just


then can I ever forget it ? there came, as it seemed,,
an instantaneous suppression of firing, and almost
immediately a cheer went up and ran along the val-
ley from end to end of our line. It meant victory
there was no mistaking the fact. I stood perfectly
still, feeling no exultation whatever. An indescrib-
able thankful sadness fell upon me, rooting me to the
spot and plunging me into a deep reverie, which for
a long time prevented me from seeing or hearing
what went forward. Night had nearly fallen when
I came to myself and started homeward. The road
was filled with wounded men, their friends and a few
prisoners. I spoke kindly to the prisoners, and took
in charge a badly wounded young man, carrying him
to the hospital, from the back windows of which am-
putated legs and arms had already been thrown on
the ground in a sickening pile.

At headquarters there was a great crowd waiting
for the generals and Mr. Davis to return. It was
now quite dark. A deal of talking went on, but I
observed little elation. People were worn out with
excitement too many had been killed how many
and who was yet to be learned. War is a sad
business, even to the victors. I saw young George
Burwell, fourteen years of age, bring in Colonel Cor-
coran, his personal captive. I heard Colonel Porcher
Miles's withering retort to Congressman Ely, who
tried to claim friendly acquaintance with him, but
went off abashed in a linen duster with the other
prisoners. I asked Colonel Preston what he thought
of the day's work.


"A glorious victory, which will produce immense
results," was his reply.

" When will we advance ?"
" We will be in Baltimore next week."
How far wrong even the wisest are ? We never
entered Baltimore, and that victorious army, one-
half of which had barely fired a shot, did not fight
.another pitched battle for nearly a year !

It was after midnight when I carried to the tele-
graph office Mr. Davis' dispatch announcing the vic-
tory. Inside the entrenched camp one thousand or
twelve hundred prisoners were herded, the militia
standing up side by side guarding them and forming
.a human picket fence, funny to behold. It was clear
.as a bell when I walked back ; the baleful comet hung
over the field of battle ; all was very still ; I could
almost hear the beating of my tired heart, that had
gone through so much that day. Too much ex-
hausted to play orderly, I slept in my chair like a

The next day, Monday, the 22nd, it rained, a
steady, straight down-pour the livelong day. Every-
body flocked to headquarters. Not one word was
said about a forward movement upon Washington.
We had too many generals -in -chief; we were
Southerners ; we didn't fancy marching in the mud
and rain we threw away a grand opportunity. For
days, for weeks, you might say, our friends kept
coming from Alexandria, saying with wonder and
impatience : " Why don't you come on ? Why stay
here doing nothing ?" No sufficient answer, in my


poor judgment, was ever given. The dead and the
dying were forgotten in the general burst of con-
gratulation. Now and then you would hear the loss
of Bee and Bartow deplored, or of some individual
friend it would be said : " Yes, he is gone, poor fel-
low ;" but this was as nothing compared to the joyous
hubbub over the victory. How proud and happy
we were. Didn't we know that we could whip the
Yankees ? Hadn't we always said so ? Henceforth
it would be easy sailing the war would soon be
over, too soon for all the glory we felt sure of gain-
ing. What fools !

Captain H. Grey Latham, in his red shirt, was a
conspicuous figure at headquarters. His battery had
covered itself with renown; congratulations were
showered upon him. I saw Captain (afterwards
Colonel, on Lee's staff) Henry E. Peyton come over
from General Beauregard's room blazing with excite-
ment and exaltation. Yesterday he was a private
now he was a captain, promoted by Beauregard first
of all because of his signal gallantry on the field.

"By !" he exclaimed to me, "when I die, I

intend to die gloriously." Alas! Colonel Peyton,
confidential clerk of the United States Senate and
owner of one of the best farms in Loudoun county,
is like to die in his bed as ingloriously as the rest of

A young Mr. Fauntleroy, desiring an interview
with General Joseph E. Johnston, I offered to pro-
cure it for him, and pushed through the crowd to
the table at which he sat. "Excuse me, General


Johnston," I began. "Excuse me, sir!" he replied,
in tones that sent me away in a state of demoraliza-

The next thing I remember is the coming on of
night, and my resuming my post as night orderly.
I was seldom aroused, and slept soundly in a chair,
tilted back against the wall. In the yard just in
front of me were a number of tents, one of which
was occupied by President Davis. The rising sun
awakened me, My eyes were still half open when
Mr. Davis stepped out of his tent, in full dress, hav-
ing made his toilet with care. Seeing no one but a
private, apparently asleep in a chair, he looked about,
turned and slowly walked to the yard fence, on the
other side of which a score or more of captured can-
non were parked, Long Tom being conspicuous. The
President stood and looked at the cannon for ten
minutes or more. Having never seen him close at
hand, I went up and looked at the cannon too, but
in reality I was looking at him most intently.

That was the turning point in my life. Had I
gone up to him, made myself known, told him what
I had done in his behalf, and asked something in re-
turn, my career in life would almost certainly have
been far different. We were alone. It was an au-
spicious time to ask favors just after a great vic-
tory and he was very responsive to personal ap-
peals. My prayer would have been heard. In
that event I should have become a member of his
political and military family, or, what would have
suited me much better, have gone to London, as


John K. Thompson afterwards did, to pursue in
the interest of the Confederacy my calling as a
journalist. But Clingman's talk had done its work.
Already prejudiced against Mr. Davis, his face,
as I examined it that fateful morning, lacked
or seemed to the elements that might have over-
come my prejudices. There was no magnetism in
it it did not draw me. Yet his voice was sweet,
musical in a high degree, and that might have drawn
me had I but spoken to him. I could not force my-
self to open my lips, but walked back to my chair on
the open porch, and my lot in life was decided.

General Beauregard removed his headquarters to
the house of Mr. Ware, some distance from Manassas
Station, a commodious brick building, in winch our
friend, Lieutenant James K. Lee, lay wounded. Mr.
Ware's family remained, but most of the house was
given up to us. I slept in the garret with the soldier
detailed to nurse Lieutenant Lee. In the yard were
a number of tents occupied by the General and his
staff. Colonel Jordan's office was in the house. My
duty, hitherto light and pleasant, now became some-
what heavy and disagreeable. I had to file and for-
ward applications for furlough, based mainly upon
surgeons' certificates. This brought me in contact
with many unlovely people, each anxious to have his
case attended to at once. It was very worrying.
Others besides myself, the clerks and staff officers,
seemed to be as much worried by their labors as I
was by mine. Fact is, young Southern gentlemen,
used to having their own way, found it hard to be at


the beck and call of anybody. The excitement of
battle over, the detail of business was pure drudgery.
We detested it.

The long, hot days of August dragged themselves
away. No advance, no sign of it ; the men in camp
playing cards, the officers horse racing. This dis-
heartened me more than all things else, but I kept
my thoughts to myself. At night I would walk out
in the garden and brood over the possible result of
this slow way of making war. The garden looked
toward the battle-field. At times I thought I de-
tected the odor of the carcasses, lightly buried there ;
at others I fancied I heard weird and doleful cries
borne on the night wind. I grew melancholy.

Twice or thrice a day I went in to see Lieutenant
Lee. Bright and hopeful of recovery, he gave his
friends a cheery welcome and an invitation to share
the abundant good things with which his mother and
sisters kept him supplied. A visit to his sick cham-
ber was literally a treat. The chances seemed all in
his favor for two weeks or more after our arrival at
the Warehouse, but then there came a change for the
worse, and soon the symptoms were such that his
kinsman, Peachy R. Grattan, Reporter of the Court
of Appeals, was sent for. He rallied a little, but we
saw the end was nigh. Mr. Grattan promised to
send for me during the night in case anything hap-
pened, and at two o'clock I was called. The long re-
spiration preceding death had set in. Mr. Grattan,
kneeling at the bedside, was praying aloud. The
prayer ended, he called the dying officer by name.


" James" (louder), " James, is there anything you wish
done ?" Lieutenant Lee murmured an inarticulate
response, made an apparent effort to remove the ring
from the finger of his left-hand, and sank back into
the last slumber. I waited an hour in silence ; still
the long-drawn breathing kept up.

" No need to wait longer," said Mr. Grattan ; " he
will not rouse any more."

I went to my pallet in the garret, but could not
sleep ; at dawn I was down again. The long breath-
ing continued ; Mr. Grattan sat close to the head of
the bed and I stood at the foot, my gaze fixed on the
dying man's face. Suddenly both his eyes opened
wide; there was no "speculation" in them, but the
whole room seemed flooded with their preternatural
light. Just then the sun rose, and his eyes closed in
everlasting darkness, to open, I doubt not, in ever-
lasting day. So passed away the spirit of James K.

A furlough was given me to accompany the re-
mains to Richmond, with indefinite leave of absence,
there being no sign of active hostilities. In view of
my infirm health a discharge was granted me after
my arrival in Richmond, and thus ended the record
of an unrenowned warrior.

Let me say a word or two in conclusion. In
1861 I was thirty-three years old ; now I am
fifty-five, gray and aged beyond my years by many
afflictions. I wanted to see a great war, saw
it, and pray God I may never see another.
I recall what General Duff Green, an ardent


Southerner, said in "Washington in the winter of
1861 to some hot-heads: "Anything, anything but
war." So said William C. Rives to some young
men in Richmond just after the fall of Sumter.
" Young gentlemen, you are eager for war you lit-
tle know what it is you are so anxious to see."
Those old men were right. War is simply horrible.
The filth, the disease, the privation, the suffering, the
mutilation, and, above all, the debasement of public
and private morals, leave to war scarcely a redeem-
ing feature.


" "1TUD, they say you heard Rubenstein play, when
f_/ you were in New York." ,

"I did, in the cool."

"Well, tell us about it."

" What ! me ? I might's well tell you about the-
creation of the world."

"Come, now; no mock modesty. Go ahead."

"Well, sir, he had the blamedest biggest, catty-
cornedest pianner you ever laid eyes on; somethin'
like a distractid billiard table on three legs. The lid
was heisted, and mighty well it was. If it hadn't
been he'd a-tore the intire insides clean out, and scat-
tered 'em to the four winds of heaven."

"Played well, did he?"

" You bet he did ; but don't interrup' me. When
he first set down he 'peard to keer mighty little
'bout playin', and wished he hadn' come. He
tweedle-leedled a little on the trible, and twoodle-
oodle-oodled some on the base just foolin' and
boxin' the thing's jaws for bein' in his way. And I
says to a man settin' next to me, s'l, 'what sort of
fool playin' is that ?' And he says, " Heish !' But
presently his hands commenced chasin' one 'nother up


and down the keys, like a passel of rats scamperin 5
through a garret very swift. Parts of it was sweet,
though, and reminded me of a sugar squirrel turnin'
the wheel of a candy cage.

" f Now," I says to my neighbor, < he's showin' off.
He thinks he's a doing of it ; but he ain't got no idee,
no plan of nuthin'. If he'd play me up a tune of
somekind or other, I'd '

" But my neighbor says < Heish /' very impatient.

"I was just about to git up and go home, bein'
tired of that foolishness, when I heard a little bird
waking up away off in the woods, and calling sleepy-
like to his mate, and I looked up and I see that Ru-
ben was beginnin' to take some interest in his busi-
ness, and I set down agin. It was the peep 'o day.
The light come faint from the east, the breeze
blowed gentle and fresh, some more birds waked up
in the orchard, then some more in the trees near the
house, and all begun singin' together. People begun
to stir, and the gal opened the shutters. Just then
the first beam of the sun fell upon the blossoms; a.
leetle more and it tetcht the roses on the bushes, and
the next thing it was broad day; the sun fairly
blazed; the birds sang like they'd split their little
throats; all the leaves was movin', and flashin' dia-
monds of dew. and the whole wide world was bright
and happy as a king. Seemed to me like there was
a good breakfast in every house in the land, and not
a sick child or woman anywhere. It was a fine

" And I says to my neighbor, ' that's music, that is.'


"But he glar'd at me like he'd like to cut my

" Presently the wind turned ; it begun to thicken
up, and a kind of grey mist come over things ; I got
low-spirited d'rectly. Then a silver rain began to
fall. I could see the drops touch the ground ; some
flashed up like long pearl ear-rings, and the rest rolled
away like round rubies. It was pretty, but melan-
choly. Then the pearls gathered themselves into
long strands and necklaces, and then they melted into
thin silver streams running between golden gravels,
.and then the streams joined each other at the bottom
of the hill, and made a brook that flowed silent except
that you could kinder see the music, specially when
the bushes on the banks moved as the music went
along down the valley. I could smell the flowers in
the meadow. But the sun didn't shine, nor the birds
sing; it was a foggy day, but not cold. The most
curious thing was the little white angel boy, like you
.see in pictures, that run ahead of the music brook,
and led it on, and on, away out of the world, where
no man ever was / never was, certain. I could see
that boy just as plain as I see you. Then the moon-
light came, without any sunset, and shone on the
grave-yards, where some few ghosts lifted their
hands and went over the wall, and between the black
sharp-top trees splendid marble houses rose up, with
fine ladies in the lit up windows, and men that loved
^em, but could never get a-nigh 'em, and played on
guitars under the trees, and made me that miserable
I could a-cried, because I wanted to love somebody,


I don't know who, better than the men with guitars
-did. Then the sun went down, it got dark, the wind
moaned and wept like a lost child for its dead mother,
and I could a got up then and there and preached a
better sermon than any I ever listened to. There
wasn't a thing in the world left to live for, not a
blame thing, and yet I didn't want the music to stop
one bit. It was happier to be miserable than to be
happy without being miserable. I couldn't under-
stand it. I hung my head and pulled out my hanker-
chief, and blowed my nose loud to keep from cryin'.
My eyes is weak anyway ; I didn't want anybody to
be a gazin' at me a snivlin', and its nobody's business
what I do with my nose. It's mine. But some sev-
eral glared at me, mad as Tucker.

"Then, all of a sudden, old Ruben changed his
tune. He ripped and he rar'd, he tipped and tar'd,
he pranced and he charged like the grand entry at a
circus. 'Feared to me that all the gas in the house
was turned on at once, things got so bright, and I
hilt up my head, ready to look any man in the face,
and not afeard of nothin'. It was a circus, and a
brass band, and a big ball, all goin' on at the same
time. He lit into them keys like a thousand of brick,
he give 'em no rest, day nor night ; he set every livin'
joint in me a-goiri', and not bein' able to stand it no
longer, I jumpt spang onto my seat, and jest hol-

"'Go it, my Rube!'

" Every blamed man, woman and child in the house
riz on me, and shouted, ' Put him out ! put him out!'


"Put your great-grandmother's grizzly grey
greenish cat into the middle of next month !' I says.
6 Tech me if you dare ! I paid my money, and you
jest come a-nigh me.'

" With that, some several p'licemen run up, and I
had to simmer down. But I would a fit any fool that
laid hands on me, for I was bound to hear Ruby out
or die.

"He had changed his tune again. He hopt-light
ladies and tip-toed fine from eend to eend of the key-
board. He played soft, and low, and solemn. I
heard the churcU bells over the hills. The candles
in heaven was lit, one by one. I saw the stars rise.-
The great organ of eternity began to play from the
world's end to the world's end, and all the angels
went to prayers. Then the music changed to water,
full of feeling that couldn't be thought, and began to
drop drip, drop, drip, drop clear and sweet, like
tears of joy fallin' into a lake of glory. It was
sweeter than that. It was as sweet as a sweetheart
sweetenin' sweetness with white sugar, mixt with-
powdered silver and seed diamonds. It was too sweet..
I tell you the audience cheered. Ruben he kinder-
bowed, like he wanted to say, i Much obleeged, but
I'd rather you wouldn't interrup' me.'

"He stqpt a minute or two, to fetch breath-
Then he got mad. He run his fingers through his
hair, he shoved up his sleeves, he opened his coat
tails a lee tie further, he drug up his stool, he leaned
over, and, sir, he just went for that old pianner. He
slapt her face, he boxed her jaws, he pulled her nose,


lie pinched her ears and he scratched her cheeks, till
she farly yelled. He knockt her down and he
stompt on her shameful. She bellowed like a bull,
,she bleated like a calf, she howled like a hound, she
squeeled like a pig, she shrieked like a rat, and then
he wouldn't let her up. He run a quarter-stretch
down the low grounds of the base, till he got clean
into the bowels of the earth, and you heard thunder
galloping after thunder, through the hollows and
-caves of perdition ; and then he fox-chased his right
hand with his left till he got away out of the treble
into the clouds, whar the notes was finer than the pints
of cambric needles, and you couldn't hear nothin' but
.the shadders of 'em. And then he wouldn't let the
old pianner go. He for'ard-two'd, he crost over first
gentleman, he crost over first lady, he balanced to
pards, he chassade right and left, back to your
places, he all hands'd aroun', ladies to the right,
promenade all, in and out, here and there, back and
forth, up and down, perpetual motion, doubled and
twisted and tied and turned and tacked and tangled
into forty-'leven thousand double bow-knots. By
jings ! it was a mixtery. And then he wouldn't let

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Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 27)