John S. (John Sergeant) Wise.

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never been recovered. Soon after the war ended, General
Brown, of the Freedmen s Bureau, returned to my father
a valuable meerschaum pipe, the gift of the King of Hol
land to a friend ; and when I was in Congress, General
B. F. Butler presented me with a cup made from the ori
ginal timber of the United States ship Constitution, re
ceived by my father from Captain Percival, of the navy.
Thus, from time to time, a few of the things we left that
day drifted back to us ; but the great bulk of them were
swept out by the tide, and lost upon the all-engulfing sea
of war. My father s correspondence, which was very
extensive, was left in his library. It was placed by the
Union authorities in the hands of the late Ben: Perley
Poore, of Boston, for examination. It was said that the
chief purpose of such searches was to find, if possible,
disloyal correspondence between Southern leaders and
people in the North known as Southern sympathizers.
Many years after the war, a box of unimportant letters was
returned to me by one of the departments. The valuable
portions of the correspondence were missing. When Mr.
Poore died, a few years ago, his effects were advertised
for sale, and among them were a great number of letters
from my father s files.

We bade farewell to Rolleston with heavy hearts, and
bent our cheerless way to Great Bridge. Even before
we left, the explosions in Norfolk began, and we heard
them as we drove along. We were very anxious lest the
enemy, coming up from the South, should reach Great
Bridge before we did, but we passed it safely, and late in
the night reached Suffolk. It was a profound relief when
we found ourselves once more safely within the Confeder
ate lines. We saved our bacon in more senses than one ;
lor a party of Union troops reached our place a few hours


after we left it, and the next day the Union forces oc
cupied the route we had traveled to Suffolk. Not long
after our arrival there, we heard an unusually loud explo
sion, which, as we afterwards learned, was the blowing-up
of the magazine of the Merrimac, an event which de
pressed us greatly.

Reaching Richmond after several days quiet driving,
we were directed to proceed to my sister s home in Gooch-
land County, whither the women of our family had pre
ceded us. There I remained until shortly after the seven
days fighting about Richmond, when I was sent in charge
of some of our slaves to a temporary home secured by my
father in the mountains of southwest Virginia, at Rocky
Mount, in Franklin County. He correctly foresaw that,
whatever happened, no enemy would penetrate into that
remote region.

Before our departure for Franklin County, I made sev
eral visits to Richmond, which was now on all occasions
crowded to overflowing with troops. The most vivid im
pression of handsome soldiery made upon me during the
war was by the Third Alabama Regiment. In the two
months which had elapsed since the evacuation of Nor
folk, I had not seen the regiment. Of its splendid con
duct in the battle of Seven Pines, and in the other en
gagements, I had of course heard, and, knowing many of
its members, was naturally interested in everything con
cerning it. Passing along the streets of Richmond one
day, I saw three or four soldiers, looking as ragged and
dirty as the average, and I should have passed them by
without further attention but for hearing my name called.
Then it was I recognized a party of the dear old boys
whom I had known in the intrenched camp at Norfolk.
It is impossible to convey any idea of the change which
had been wrought in their appearance by two months of


hard campaigning on the Peninsula. Their uniforms,
once so neat, were worn and torn and patched, marked
with mud and clay, and scorched by camp-fires. Their
bright buttons and trimmings had lost all lustre. Their
hair was long, the freshness of their complexions gone,
and their eyes seemed lustreless and bleared by camp-fire
smoke. Even their voices were softened and subdued.
Oh ! nobody knows, until he has seen it, how marching
and fighting by day, and sleeping under the stars or in
the storm at night, can wear men out. The Third Ala
bama had had many a hard knock since we parted. In
one of its earliest engagements, it had been subjected by
the mistake of some commander to a murderous attack,
in which it lost its noble colonel, Lomax, whose body
was never found. I was shocked and surprised, upon
inquiry for this or that light-hearted fellow whom I had
known in the gay days of mandolin and guitar and moon
light sails, when they camped at Norfolk, to hear that
he was killed at such a place, or wounded at such a
place, or lay ill in such and such hospital, or was granted
sick leave. Nothing I had ever seen or heard before
so brought home to me the vivid realization that this war
was becoming all-consuming and all-devouring.

" And where is the regiment now ? " I asked. It was
on the nine-mile road, facing the enemy, about seven
miles from the city, near the Chickahominy bottoms, wait
ing to yield up yet other victims to the Confederate cause
in the seven days fighting about Richmond. That even
ing, I rode down to see them, but there was little to cheer
one in the visit. There were no more tents, or cooks, or
attendant servants, or bright uniforms, or bands, or dress
parades. The camp was located in a copse of pines in
rear of a line of breastworks from which the Union
troops had been driven in the battle of Seven Pines, and


which were now made to face the enemy. The men slept
on the ground, without any covering. The few camp-fires
were built along the line, and the soldiers were cooking
their own rough fare. Out at the front, picket firing
resounded all along the line, and the men seemed to be
silently brooding upon the deadly storm then gathering.
The seven days fighting, from Mechanicsville to Malvern
Hill, began a little later, and many another friend among
them yielded up his life in those sultry summer days of

As we were returning to Kichmond that afternoon,
attracted by artillery firing upon the Mechanicsville pike,
we rode out to Strawberry Hill, a beautiful farm over
looking the Chickahominy valley, and witnessed an artil
lery duel between Captain Lindsay Walker s battery and
a Union battery stationed in a field just above Mechan
icsville. The firing was across the Chickahominy valley.
Through field-glasses, large masses of the enemy were
plainly visible about Mechanicsville, and the spires of
Richmond were the background of the battery at which
the Union troops were firing. One of General McClel-
lan s anchored balloons rode high in the heavens behind
Mechanicsville, and altogether the sight was exceedingly
inspiring. The distance between the combatants was not
more than two miles ; but the damage done in these en
counters, with the short-ranged artillery of that day, was

It was on this occasion that I first saw President Davis,
who had ridden out with several members of his staff to
inspect the lines. Mr. Davis was an excellent horseman,
and looked well on horseback. He had a passion for mili
tary life, and was a man of cool nerves under fire. His
presence was always greeted with considerable enthusiasm
by the troops, although he never had the hold upon their


hearts possessed by " Ole Joe," or " Mars Robert," as
General Johnston and General Lee were called. I do not
recollect distinctly who accompanied him, but have an
impression that his young secretary, Burton Harrison,
was one of the party. It was a time of deep solicitude
for Mr. Davis, no doubt, as the army had just changed
commanders. General Johnston had been wounded at
Seven Pines, and General Lee had been relieved from
duty at Charleston and appointed to succeed him.

The war had by this time produced two comparatively
new industries. One was the issuing of " shinplaster "
currency, and the other was the manufacture of fruit

The United States laws relating to currency and reve
nue no longer obtained, and the Confederate laws had
not been put into enforcement. The lack of small cur
rency soon gave rise to the issue of one dollar and fifty-
cent and twenty-five-cent bills, by nearly all the towns
and counties of the State. Private bankers also issued
these bills, and even private individuals. I remember
particularly one Sylvester P. Cocke, an old fellow who
had formerly kept a country store at Dover Mills, in
Goochland County. In 1862, he had a little office upon
the bank of the " Basin " or terminus of the James River
and Kanawha Canal, in Richmond. The office was not
exceeding ten feet square, and stood in the corner of a
large vacant coal-yard. Mr. Cocke s banking facilities
consisted of a table, a small safe, a stack of sheets of bills,
and a stout pair of shears. He had his I. O. U. s printed
on ordinary letter-paper. They had in one corner a pic
ture of a mastiff lying in front of an iron safe, holding
its key between his paws, and, besides the date, declared,
" On demand I promise to pay to bearer " one dollar,
fifty cents, or twenty -five cents, or ten cents, and were


signed by Sylvester P. Cocke in a clerical hand. There
he sat signing, or clipping his promises apart with his
shears, and, although Mr. Cocke s means of redemption
were an unknown factor, his notes passed current with
people in Richmond, and all through the valley of the
James, as if they had been obligations of the Bank of

Everybody in the country was engaged in converting
his fruit into brandy. Wherever there was a clear stream
and a neighboring orchard, there was sure to be a still.
Where all these stills and worms and kettles came from,
nobody could conjecture. It was a great fruit year, and
there were no markets, and it was apparent that liquor
would be scarce and high. In July, 1862, I drove our
horses and carriage from a point just above Richmond to
the abode of the family in Franklin County, a distance of
two hundred miles or more, and I feel confident that there
was not ten miles upon the route in which I did not pass
one or more fruit distilleries.

The passion for speculating in things which were likely
to become high-priced as the war progressed took posses
sion of everybody about this time. Staple articles, like
sugar and coffee and flour, were growing scarce. Pru
dent housekeepers who had the means to procure these
things laid in large supplies. Speculators w r ere buying
them up, and storing them for the rise which was sure to
come. About this time also, in view of the scarcity of
sugar and molasses, people began to cultivate sorghum,
which thrived in our climate, and yielded a reasonably
good substitute for cane molasses.

But the spirit of speculation was not confined to the
larger products ; it extended to every variety of small
manufactured articles. On my drive to Rocky Mount, I
stopped one night in Buckingham County with an old fel-


low who had a wayside tavern and a country store. Dur
ing* the evening, conversation turned upon the increased
price of everything, and the profits to be made by pur
chasing and holding articles which it would soon be diffi
cult to procure. I became infected with the trading
spirit, and on the following morning my host admitted me
to his store to inspect his stock, and determine whether
there was anything which I particularly desired.

War had made sad changes in the appearance of coun
try stores. The shelves, once filled with bright prints and
cloths and rolls of gleaming white goods, were now almost
empty. Only here and there were a few bolts of common
cloth, such as the Confederate mills could produce. The
posts were no longer decorated with bright trace-chains
and horse-collars and currycombs, but simply displayed
a few rough shuck collars and improvised farming gear.
The showcases had been utterly cleaned out of their stock
of ribbons and laces, cakes and candies, and cotton and
scissors and gilt things. Perfumed soaps and toilet arti
cles, the glory of country stores in peace time, had dis
appeared. A few skeins of yarn for knitting socks, and
cakes of home-made soap and moulds of beeswax, a few
chunks of maple-sugar, all at very high prices, constituted
about all the stock in trade that was left. I cast about in
vain for rare articles in which to invest for a rise, until at
last I spied, upon a dusty shelf, a box of watch-crystals !
Timidly I inquired the price, and it was not very high.

""Do you think they will increase in value ? " I asked

" Increase ? " said the storekeeper ; " young man, you
have a trader s instincts. Increase ? Why, in a year
there will not be a watch-crystal in the Confederacy. You
can name your own profit, and anybody will be glad to
give it." So I bought the nest of watch-crystals, feeling


sure I had a fortune in them. Perhaps I should have
made a great profit. With this idea firmly in my mind,
I nursed them carefully for several days, fully intending
to put them aside until watch-crystals were at the top
notch of Confederate prices, and then pocket a princely
gain ; but unfortunately, before I reached the end of that
journey, I one day, in a fit of absent-mindedness, sat down
upon the seat in the carriage beneath which my watch-
crystals were stored, and thus ended my first and last
Confederate speculation.



ROCKY MOUNT, our place of refuge, was a typical Vir
ginia mountain village. Even at this present time, when
it has its railroad and telegraph, one in search of seclu
sion from the outside world might safely select it for his
purpose. Month after month, year after year, roll by
without other things to vary its monotony than the horse-
tradings, or public speakings, or private brawls of court
days, or an occasional religious "revival."

But in the summer of 1862, the excitement of war,
and the feverish anxiety to know of its progress, and the
unusual activity in every sort of trading, pervaded even
that secluded locality.

The nearest point to us reached by railroad or telegraph
was a station named Big Lick, upon the Virginia and
Tennessee Railroad, in the county of Roanoke. Round
about Big Lick, whose population did not exceed thirty
persons, the valley of the Roanoke River was, as it
still is, a veritable land of Goshen. The adjacent farms,
now covered by the populous city of Roanoke, were in
a state of excellent cultivation, and counted among the
most fertile in that beautiful valley. Hereabouts were the
stately homes of the Tayloes, the Wattses, the Preston s,
and many other representatives of the oldest and wealth
iest families of southwestern Virginia.

When a visitor known to them arrived at Big Lick, it
was useless, whithersoever he was bound or howsoever


urgent his mission, to decline their generous hospitality.
He was sure to encounter some of them at the station,
and no protestation availed against first accompanying
them to their homes, and then accepting their equipages
in lieu of the public conveyance for the remainder of his

My brother Henry, being a clergyman and non-com
batant, was in charge of our family in Franklin. After
driving our horses across country and conducting our
slaves to their new abode, I again went East for some
household effects, and he and I, returning together to Big
Lick, were there seized upon by some friends, detained for
several days, and finally dispatched to our journey s end
in the private vehicle of a Mr. Tinsley. His home stood
near the river bank, in a handsome inclosure, surrounded
by fields of harvested wheat, where the very heart of the
city of Roanoke is now located.

His adjoining neighbors, not far distant, were the
Tayloes, whose mansion stood in a stately grove with well-
kept lawns, at a spot where engine-shops and the houses
of railroad men are built at present.

The thing which impressed me most, upon the visit to
these good folk, was the absence of all the males of fight
ing age. The Tayloes of Roanoke were prominent people,
and in all public affairs had figured conspicuously as
representatives of their county and their section. The
only members of the family at home to welcome the stran
ger within their gates were the aged, white-haired head
of the house and four or five daughters and daughters-
in-law, clad in mourning. We were received with fault
less courtesy, and entertained with exquisite hospitality.

Tremulously and anxiously the fine old gentleman, with
his female brood about him, asked for the latest news
from the front. Eagerly they plied us "with new questions


concerning the progress and prospects of the struggle.
Insatiable and unabated seemed their desire to talk on
and on concerning that bloody phalanx aligned about
Richmond, whence we came.

And well might their deepest interest be centred there,
for every arms-bearing Tayloe son, brother, husband
was in the forefront of the fight, save one. He had
already fallen; his portrait hung in the spacious drawing-
room beside the others. His name was spoken and
spoken again with gentle tears, and with that reverence
which the devout render to the Christian martyr.

In this spacious, peace-embowered home, nestled close
to the river, under the looming Mill Mountain, whose
afternoon shadows were already creeping across the lawn
of oaks and elms, and maples and hickories, with the
summer breezes stealing around its white pillars and
through its wide hallways and swaying its muslin cur
tains, with naught but gently murmured conversation to
break the delicious quietude, how far away seemed the
war! how startling was the contrast with the seething
cauldron of strife in which their strong men struggled
about Richmond !

Yet which were suffering the most ? Who shall mea
sure the agony which racked those hearts, outwardly so
placid, during the long years they waited while the strife
went on ?

Who can picture the desolating sorrow which engulfed
them as, one by one, the strong arms on which that house
hold depended fell helpless, and the news came home
that the brave hearts for whose safety they prayed had
ceased to beat ! for it was so. The war filled grave after
grave in the graveyard of the Tayloe family, until, when
it ended, the male line was almost extinct.

Our visit to these good folk was charming, and from


time to time, when wearied of our mountain isolation, we
would return to their lovely valley to mingle anew with
such congenial friends.

To the east and south of them was the Blue Ridge,
and beyond it our home. From the railroad station the
stage road ran for a mile or two through the valley,
then crossed the Roanoke River by a ford at the base
of the mountains, then plunged into the rugged range.
Winding up hill and down vale it went on, through pass
and gorge and over tumbling mountain-stream, until it
emerged into the rough foot-hill country east of the Blue
Ridge, in which was our new home.

Twenty-eight miles of travel over such a route seems
much more than the measured distance, and carried us
indeed into a new class of population, as distinct from
that which we left behind as if an ocean instead of
a mountain range had separated the two communities.
Soon the broad pastures and fields of grain had disap
peared. In their place were rough, hillside lots, with
patches of buckwheat or tobacco. Instead of the stately
brick houses standing in groves on handsome knolls, all
that we saw of human habitations were log-houses far
apart upon the mountain sides, or in the hollows far
below us. No longer were pastures visible, with well-bred
cattle standing in pooly places, shaded by sugar maples,
bathing their flanks at noontide. No more did we meet
smart equipages drawn by blooded horses. No more the
happy darkey greeted us with smiles.

Up, up, up, until the mountain side fell far below
our track ; down, down, down, until our wheels ground
into, and our horses scattered about their feet, the broken
slate of a roaring stream. Now, following the sycamores
along its banks, with here a patch of arable land and its
mountain cabin, whence a woman smoking a pipe, and


innumerable tow-headed children hanging about her
skirts, eyed us silently ; and there another roadside cabin,
with hollyhocks and sunflowers and bee-hives in the yard,
the sound of a spinning-wheel from within, a sleeping cat
in the window, and a cur dog on the doorstep ; here a
carry-log, with patient team drawn aside upon the narrow
road to let us pass, the strapping teamster in his shirt
sleeves, with trousers stuck into his cowhide boots, leaning
against his load so intent in scrutiny of us that he barely
noticed our salutation ; here a bearded man, clad in home
spun and a broad slouched hat, riding leisurely along on
his broad-backed, quiet horse, carrying the inevitable
saddle-bags of the mountaineer ; here a woman on horse
back, with long sunbonnet, and coarse, cotton riding-skirt,
and bag slung at the saddle-bow, and small boy, with
dangling bare feet, riding behind her ; here a spout-spring
by the roadside, where the living water of the mountain
side leaped joyously from a hollow gum-tree log grown
green in service; now mounting upward again until all
that is visible is the winding road, with the blue sky
above it, and the massed tree-tops below, and the curling
smoke of some mountain distillery, with nothing to break
the stillness but the heavy hammering of the log-cock
upon some dead limb, or the drumming of the ruffed
grouse far away. So, on and on we toiled, until we
reached the open country beyond the mountains, and late
in the evening our steaming horses drew up at our new
home, which was strange and different from any we had
ever had before.

Our house was large, among the newest and most
modern in the village, prettily located on the outskirts,
on the highest knoll in the place, and commanded a fine
view of the little valley and Bald Knob, and the moun
tains through which we came. The stage road, after


passing our house, entered the main street of the village,
which was a rocky lane upon a sharp decline, with stores
and houses scattered on either side, terminating at an
inclosure where stood the court house, clerk s office, and
county jail. Halfway down this street was the tavern,
an antiquated structure, with a porch extending along its
entire front, its brick pillars supporting a second story
overhanging the porch. This porch, which was almost
on a level with the street, was provided with an ample
supply of benches and cane-bottom chairs. At one end
of it, suspended in a frame, was the tavern bell, whose
almost continual clang was signal for grooms to take or
fetch horses, or summons to meals.

The tavern porch was the rallying-point of the town :
hither all news came ; here all news was discussed ; hence
all news was disseminated. From this spot the daily stage
departed in the morning. Here villagers and country
folk assembled in the day and waited in the evening ;
and to this spot came the stage in the evening, bearing
the mail, the war news, and such citizens as had been
absent, visitors who drifted in, or soldiers returning sick,
wounded, or on furlough.

Supreme interest centred ever about the arrival or
departure of the stage. In the foggy morning it ap
peared with its strong four-in-hand team, and took its
place majestically in front of the old tavern. The porters
rocked it as they dumped the baggage into the boot ;
the red-faced driver came forth from the breakfast-room
with great self-importance. With his broad palm he
wiped away the greasy remnants of his meal, lit his brier-
root pipe, drew on his buckskin gloves, settled his slouched
hat over his eyes, clambered to his seat upon the box,
gathered his reins and whip, and cast a glance towards the
post-office across the way ; an aged man and a meek-


eyed woman in simple garb slipped quietly into the rear
seats, going perhaps on some sad mission under summons
to a far-off hospital at the front ; a dainty miss, with bon
net-box and bunch of flowers, kissed papa and mamma
and took her place within, full of joyous anticipation,
doubtless, for even in war times girls love to visit each
other; a fat commissary, returning from his search in
the back country for supplies, came forth, reeking with
rum and tobacco, and swung up awkwardly to the seat
beside the driver. Tom, Dick, and Harry, the new

Online LibraryJohn S. (John Sergeant) WiseThe end of an era → online text (page 16 of 35)