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John S. (John Sergeant) Wise.

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recruits bound for the front, proud in their new and
misfit uniforms, seized mother, wife, sister, or sweetheart
in their arms, kissed them, bade them have no fear, and
scrambled lightly to the top. The lame and tardy post
master hobbled forth at last, and threw his mail-pouch up
to the dashboard. The coachman gave his warning cry
of " All aboard," the hostlers drew off the blankets, the
long whip cracked its merry signal ; with discord in each
footfall at the start and concord as they caught the step,
the horses pulled away ; and the lumbering stage went
grinding up the stony street, its horn singing its morning
carol to those who were awake. As they disappeared
over the hill-top, a last merry cry of parting came back
from the bright boys on the stage-top, and the last they
saw of home was the waving tokens of love from those
they left behind.

As the day advanced, the tavern porch again took on
an air of life.

Everybody traveled upon horseback. By midday, the
country folk began to stream in. Up and down the street
a gradually increasing line of saddle-horses were " hitched."
Women, old and young, arrived, all of conventional
dress, and with horses singularly alike. Their bonnets
were the long-slatted poke-bonnet ; their riding-skirts, of



226 THE END OF AN ERA

coarse cotton. Alighting at the horse-blocks, they untied
and slipped off the skirts and tied them to their saddle
bows, revealing their plain homespun dress. Their horses
were broad-backed, short on the leg, carried their heads
on a level with their shoulders, and moved with noses
advanced like camels. They had no gaits but a swift
walk, a gentle fox-trot, or a slow, ambling pace. When
they had " hitched the critturs," these women went pok
ing about the stores, or the tavern kitchen, or the private
houses, with chickens or butter, or other farmyard pro
duce, seldom speaking further than asking one to buy ;
and when their sales were effected and little purchases
made, they went away as silently as they had come.

The men came by themselves. Their principal occupa
tion seemed to be horse-trading. At times, the neighbor
ing stables, and even the street itself, were filled with men
leading their animals about, and engaged in the liveliest
of horse-trading. A considerable proportion of the popu
lation belonged to a religious sect known as Dunkards.
In appearance, they were solemn and ascetic. The men
wore long, flowing beards, and their homespun dress was
of formal cut. Their doctrinal tenets were opposed to
slavery and to war. Whenever political or military dis
cussions arose, they promptly withdrew. They were very
strict temperance men, and decent, orderly, law-abiding
citizens, but horse-traders ! It must have been a part of
their religious faith. A Dunkard was never so happy as
when he was horse-trading.

There were others, too, to whom temperance was not
so sacred as to the Dunkards. By three or four o clock,
the tavern bar was liberally patronized. The recruiting-
office had its full quota of young fellows inquiring about
the terms of enlistment. The tavern porch was filled
with people discussing war news, and the quartermaster



AMONG THE MOUNTAINS 227

down the street had more horses offered to him than he
was authorized to buy.

At such times, a favorite entertainment was to draw
General Early out upon his views of men and events, for
the edification of the tavern-porch assemblage.

lie was a resident of Franklin, and at that time sojourn
ing at the tavern. He had been severely wounded in the
battle of Williamsburg in May, 1862, and was now quite
convalescent, but still on sick leave. He was a singular
being.

Franklin County had been strongly opposed to seces
sion. Jubal A. Early was a pronounced Union man, and
was elected from his county as her representative to the
Secession Convention. In that body he had opposed and
denounced secession until the ordinance was passed. As
soon as the State seceded, he declared that his State was
entitled to his services, and tendered them. He was a
man of good family, a graduate of the West Point Mili
tary Academy, and possessed unsurpassed personal cour
age. In 1862, he was a brigadier-general, and had been
conspicuously brave in the battle in which he was wounded.
His subsequent career in higher commands was disastrous.
After the war, he became notorious as the most implaca
ble and " unreconstructed " of all the Confederate gen
erals. He was a man deeply attached to a small circle of
friends, but intensely vindictive and abusive of those he
disliked.

At the time of which I write, he was the hero of Frank
lin County, and, although he professed to despise popular
ity and to be defiant of public opinion, it was plain that
he enjoyed his military distinction. It had done much to
soften old-time asperities, and blot out from the memory
of his neighbors certain facts in his private life which had,
prior to the war, alienated from him many of his own



228 THE END OF AN ERA

class. In fact, I doubt not he was a happier man then
than he had been for many a year before, or was at a later
period, when he became more or less a social and political
Ishmaelite.

He was eccentric in many ways, eccentric in appear
ance, in voice, in manner of speech. Although he was not
an old man, his shoulders were so stooped and rounded
that he brought his countenance to a vertical position
with difficulty. He wore a long, thin, straggling beard.
His eyes were very small, dark, deep-set, and glittering,
and his nose aquiline. His step was slow, shuffling, and
almost irresolute. I never saw a man who looked less
like a soldier. His voice was a piping treble, and he
talked with a long-drawn whine or drawl. His opinions
were expressed unreservedly, and he was most emphatic
and denunciatory, and startlingly profane.

His likes and dislikes he announced without hesitation,
and, as he was filled with strong and bitter opinions, his
conversation was always racy and pungent. His views
were not always correct, or just, or broad ; but his wit was
quick, his satire biting, his expressions were vigorous, and
he was interestingly lurid and picturesque.

With his admiring throng about him on the tavern
porch, on summer evenings in 1862, General Early, in
my opinion, said things about his superiors, the Confed
erate leaders, civic and military, and their conduct of
affairs, sufficient to have convicted him a hundred times
over before any court-martial. But his criticisms never
extended to General Robert E. Lee. For Lee he seemed
to have a regard and esteem and high opinion felt by him
for no one else. Although General Lee had but recently
been called to the command of the army, he predicted his
great future with unerring judgment.

The arrival of the stage not infrequently interrupted



AMONG THE MOUNTAINS 229

General Early s vigorous lectures. For half an hour or
more before the event, the expectant throng would in
crease, and, as those who " brace " themselves for the
crisis were there, as everywhere else, conversation grew
louder and agitation greater as the time approached.
Then the stage would heave in sight in the gloaming, and
come rattling down the rough street, the horseshoes knock
ing fire from the flints. Before the smoking and jaded
beasts had fairly stopped, loud inquiries would be made
on all hands, of driver and passengers, for war news.
Somebody would throw down the latest newspaper ; some
body would mount a chair and read aloud ; and, just as
the news was encouraging or depressing, there would be
cheering or silence. Then would come the rush for the
mail to the post-office across the way.

The passengers, also, were a source of engrossing inter
est. There was young So-and-so, with his empty sleeve.
A year ago he had left the place, and passed safely
through all the earlier battles ; but at Malvern Hill a
grapeshot mutilated his left arm. Amputation followed,
and now, after a long time in hospital, here he was, home
again, pale and bleached, with an honorable discharge in
his pocket, and maimed for life. And there, collapsed
upon the rear seat, more dead than alive, too weak to
move save with the assistance of friends, was a poor, wan
fellow, whom nobody knew at first. How pitiful he
seemed, as they helped him forth, his eyes sunken yet
restless, his weak arms clinging about their necks, his
limbs scarce able to support his weight, his frame racked
by paroxysms of violent coughing ! u Who is it ? " passed
from mouth to mouth. " Good God ! " exclaimed some
one at the whispered reply, " it can t be ! That is not
Jimmie Thomson. What ! Not old man Hugh Thom
son s son, down on Pig River ? Why, man alive, I knew



230 THE END OF AN ERA

the boy well. He was one of the likeliest boys in this
whole county. Surely, that ar skeleton can t be him ! "
But it was. The exposure of camp life had done for poor
Jinimie what bullets had failed to do.

There, perched gayly in air, and tumbling down upon
the heads of the bystanders with joyous greeting, was the
sauciest, healthiest youngster in the village, come home
on his first furlough in a twelvemonth, wearing on his
collar the bars of a lieutenant (conferred for gallantry at
Seven Pines), in place of the corporal s chevrons on his
sleeve when he marched away. Camp life had made no
inroads on his health. The sun and rain had only given
him a healthy bronze. His digestion would have assimi
lated paving-stones. The bullets had gone wide of him.
And his little world, the dearest on earth to him, the
little world which had laughed and cried over the stories
of his capers and his courage in the field, stood there
surprised and delighted, with smiling faces and open arms,
to welcome him home, their own village boy, their saucy,
gallant fighting-chap, their hero, home again, if only
for a week !

Each day opened and passed and closed, with its excite
ments. It was all very narrow and primitive, the out-
of-the-way world of the obscure village in an unknown
region. Yet in it were the same old hopes and fears and
joys and tears, hearteases and heartaches, loves and hates,
and all the moods and tenses of human nature, to be found
in the most populous and cosmopolitan hives of humanity.

I was now nearly sixteen. Many youths of my age
were in the army. I had written more than once for my
father s consent to enlist, but received stern denials. The
war talk at the old tavern, the stories of camps and fights
and military glory, the daily enlistments, the desire to
appear a man in the eyes of certain girls, were all cooper-



AMONG THE MOUNTAINS 231

ating to inflame my desire to be a soldier. I was growing
mannish and rebellious. My brother saw it all, and heard
me threaten to run away, and wrote father seriously,
advising him that I was getting beyond his control, and
urging him to send me to the Virginia Military Institute,
where I would be under restraint, and receive instruction,
instead of growing up in ignorance and idleness.

It was soon settled. September 1, 1862, I left Rocky
Mount, took the train at Big Lick, went to the neighbor
ing station of Bonsacks, and there perched myself upon
the stage-top, booked for Lexington. It was a long jour
ney, occupying sixteen hours. We started at six p. M.,
and, riding continuously, reached Lexington at ten o clock
the following morning. It was a glorious ride in brilliant
autumn weather, with moonlight. We passed through
Fincastle and Buchanan, and over the Natural Bridge.

As we approached Lexington, and I caught sight of
the Virginia Military Institute and its beautiful parade
grounds, and professors* houses and other buildings, my
mind was filled with thoughts of glorious military life,
and the commission in the army which awaited me when
I graduated, for I was now a cadet in the West Point of
the Confederacy.



CHAPTER XVI
PRESBYTERIAN LEXINGTON

GREAT differences in soil, climate, and scenery exist
between the grand divisions into which Virginia is cut up
geographically. But they are not more striking than the
diversity of the populations, one from the other, in these
several sections, springing from differences in the time
and the manner in which, and the people by whom, her
several early settlements were made.

Two or three centuries of common government would
ordinarily seem sufficient to produce a homogeneous popu
lation in a State. While this result has been attained in
Virginia in essentials, it is nevertheless surprising to ob
serve in each section local peculiarities, types, and char
acteristics plainly traceable to its earliest settlement.

We were first introduced to the lower Tidewater section,
where the soil is sandy, the climate balmy, the landscape
flat, viewless, save as it is redeemed from monotony by
the boundless, ever-changing grandeur of old Ocean. The
people, while of her oldest strains, are simple in their
mode of living, and admit neither lineage nor wealth as
basis for any caste or class distinction. Then we turned
to the region of the upper and lower James, with Rich
mond as its centre, settled later than Tidewater by the
so-called Cavalier immigration of 1649-60. There, of old,
social relations were akin to those of Rome s patricians
and plebeians, patrons and clients. Not alone was the
haughty descendant of Charles I. owner of a plantation



PRESBYTERIAN LEXINGTON 233

and of slaves, he was more : the poor whites and the
shopkeepers of country and town alike, consciously or
unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly, rendered him
homage as if he were their superior. And he, while often
proclaiming principles of social equality, seldom prac
ticed them, and quietly accepted, as his legitimate due,
the preeminence granted him by his humbler neighbors.

Then, with a mere glimpse of the Roanoke region, we
passed into the rocky soil, the wild and mountainous
landscape, and the rough, new, and nondescript popula
tion which, from one direction and another, has collected
upon and taken possession of the eastern slope of the
Blue Ridge range. Here, again, we found a democracy
full of independence and courage, but in all things of
education and refinement, far inferior to that in Tide
water.

Now, at Lexington, we are in the heart of the valley
lying between the Blue Ridge and AUeghany ranges. It
is a region with a different soil, a different climate, differ
ent scenery, and a population more distinctly sui generis
than any yet described. The soil is based upon blue
limestone. It is where the grasses grow. The lands lie
tumbled into knobby hills and rolling fields, with here and
there narrow fertile valleys traversed by limpid streams,
whose banks are cedar-clad bluffs of limestone shale.
The great valley is more broken here, less pastoral, and
not so charming as in its lower section to the north, where
it widens, and is watered by the Shenandoah ; but this is
the bolder landscape, with a rugged beauty peculiar to
itself. The mountain framing of the picture is the same ;
but the land is higher, for, as the cloud-capped peaks of
the Blue Ridge and AUeghany ranges draw nearer to
each other, the vale between them is nearer to their own
altitude. We are in Rockbridge County, so called be-



234 THE END OF AN ERA

cause within its limits is the superb natural arch of lime
stone known the world over as the Natural Bridge.

Lexington, the county seat of Kockbridge, is near the
summit of the transverse watershed of the great valley.
Within a few miles of the town, streams rise, some pour
ing their waters southward into the tributaries of the
James, and others coursing northward, tributary to the
Shenandoah, which enters the Potomac at Harper s Ferry.
The place itself is beautiful. Looking east and south,
the rolling country falls away to the base of the Blue
Ridge, where the South River and North River unite and
flow onward to join the James, where their united waters
turn eastward through the pass at Balcony Falls. The
magnificent Blue Ridge range bounds the eastern view,
and is last seen to southward, where the twin breasts of
the Peaks of Otter rear themselves against the distant
blue. Northward, beyond the wooded bluffs of the North
River, steep hills of farming lands are tilted towards us,
their sides dotted with cattle, their summits crowned with
forests. Beyond these, crest after crest of the smaller
foothills of the Alleghanies appear. To the northwest,
looming in isolated majesty, is the House Mountain, with
the peak of the Devil s Backbone behind it, marking the
route through historic Goshen Pass. North and south, as
far as the eye can reach, shading away in their tints from
deep emerald to dreamy blue as they become more and
more remote, are masses of hills. To the west and south
west, now strongly outlined, now melting into the last visi
ble things of the distance, are the azure peaks of the
Alleghanies. Such is the country about Lexington, where
Virginia has her Military Institute. It is a spot almost
as beautiful as West Point, and the school is second only
to the Military Academy in thoroughness. It is an ideal
spot for healthfulness, and the isolation of youth from the



PRESBYTERIAN LEXINGTON 235

temptations and distracting influences of crowded com
munities. The boy who finds allurement to idleness and
vice in that town would discover it anywhere.

It is a community of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. For
more than a hundred years after the settlement of James
town, and for over fifty years after Richmond was an
incorporated city, this valley remained uuviewed by the
eye of any white man.

As early as 1608, Newport, on his second visit to the
Virginia colony, brought with him a boat built in sec
tions, to be transported by him under orders to find the
South Sea beyond the mountains. The extent to which
he performed that order was that he marched to the Mona-
con country, about twenty miles west of Richmond, and
his company returned footsore to Jamestown.

One hundred and two years later (1710), Governor
Spots wood wrote to the Council of Trade in London that a
party of adventurers had found the mountains " not above
a hundred miles from our upper settlements, and went up
to the top of the highest mountains with their horses,"
and looked over into the valley. This is supposed to have
been near Balcony Falls. It was not until 1716 that the
first passage of the Blue Ridge was effected. Then Gov
ernor Spotswood and his " Knights of the Golden Horse
shoe " entered the lower or Shenandoah valley by way of
Swift Run Gap, and took possession in the name of George
the First. Governor Spotswood s expedition resulted in
nothing important. The only diary of its performance
extant is principally devoted to description of the liquors
which the party carried with it, whereof eleven sorts are
enumerated. A few adventurers may have straggled into
the valley after this, but it was not until 1732-36 that it
was settled by any considerable population.

Shortly prior to 1732, an immense number of Scotch-



236 THE END OF AN ERA

Irish and Germans poured into Pennsylvania and the Jer
seys. Within thirty years, the population of Pennsylvania
increased from about thirty thousand to two hundred and
fifty thousand. The Scotsmen, who, for religious liberty,
had originally sought the north of Ireland, were the peo
ple who saved Ireland to William and Mary from Cath
olic James. Their loyalty was rewarded by new persecu
tions for non-conformity, until they resolved to seek asylum
in America. So, also, about the same time came to Amer
ica a great migration of German Lutherans, who were
induced to settle in Pennsylvania. The Scotsmen occupied
the regions about Princeton, New Jersey, Eastoii, Car
lisle, and Washington. The Germans settled about York,
Lancaster, Columbia, and Harrisburg. Governor Logan,
himself a Scotch-Irishman, enforced some laws about 1730
which were so offensive to the Presbyterians and Lutherans
that great numbers of them left the Pennsylvania colony,
crossed the Potomac west of the Blue Kidge, in the vicin
ity of Harper s Ferry, entered Virginia, and settled the
Blue Kidge valley.

As if by agreement, the two bands separated. The
lethargic Germans, as soon as they escaped the Pennsyl
vania jurisdiction, occupied the lower valley from Har
per s Ferry to Harrisonburg. The aggressive Scotch-
Irish pressed on to the upper valley, then called West
Augusta, now divided into the counties of Augusta,
Rockbridge, Botetourt, Roanoke, and Montgomery. From
then until now, the two races have retained possession of
and dominated their respective settlements.

And a very striking race of men are these Scotch-Irish,
so called, yet with nothing Irish about them save that
for a little while they tarried in Ireland. Hated by the
Irish because they were Protestants, persecuted by the
English because they were Presbyterians, they in turn



PRESBYTERIAN LEXINGTON 237

cordially detested both, and, in our Revolutionary strug
gles, were among the earliest and most intense rebels
against the king. For liberty, as they conceived it,
whether it was liberty of conscience or liberty of the
person, the Scotch-Irishmen and their descendants have
never hesitated to sacrifice comfort, fortune, or life.
Their mountain origin has always manifested itself by
the places they have chosen in their migrations. The
few who went to the Puritan settlements of New England
soon moved from among them and sought the inhospit
able highlands of New Hampshire, where they bestowed
on their new settlement the name of Londonderry. The
little band who found asylum among the Dutch of New
York pressed onward from uncongenial associates to the
mountainous frontier, and named the county where they
settled Ulster, in memory of their Irish home. Those
who wearied of Pennsylvania and went to Virginia
avoided the light society of the Cavaliers in Tidewater
and Piedmont, preferring the mountain wilds of West
Augusta.

Wherever they appeared, they seemed to be seeking for
some secluded spot, where, undisturbed by any other sect,
they might enjoy liberty unrestrained, and worship God
after their own fashion.

And great have they been as pioneers. They popu
lated western New England, northern New York, west
ern Pennsylvania, and the Virginia valley. Then they
pressed onward through western North Carolina, even to
northern South Carolina. Then they spread westward
through Cumberland Gap to the settlement of Kentucky.
In later days, their Lewis and their Clarke were the
explorers of the Northwest ; another Lewis was the first
to view Pike s Peak ; and even the territory of Texas
was in part reclaimed by Sam Houston, son of a Rock-



238 THE END OF AN ERA

bridge County Presbyterian. The pioneer work of the
Scotch- Irish has been greater than that of all other races
in America combined.

Great also have they been as fighters. John Lewis,
their first leader in the Virginia valley, was the terror of
the frontier Indians from the day of his arrival. Never
after his coining did the Indians come east of the Blue
Ridge. Another Scotch-Irishman, Patrick Henry, uttered
the immortal sentence, " Give me liberty or give me
death."

General Henry Knox, of Revolutionary fame, the only
New England representative in Washington s cabinet,
was a Scotch-Irishman.

It was the Scotch-Irish of Mecklenburg, North Caro
lina, who framed the first resolutions embodying the prin
ciples of the Declaration of Independence. It was of the
Scotch-Irish and their valley home that Washington was
speaking when, in the darkest hours of the Revolution, he
declared that, if the worst came to the worst, he would
retire to the mountain fastnesses of West Augusta, and
there, with a few of his brave followers about him, defy
forever the power of Great Britain. It was from the
same spot that Stonewall Jackson, another of the stock,
went forth in our great civil war, followed by his brave
men of Scotch-Irish ancestry recruited here, to revive, by
his grim prowess and their unshaken valor, the memory of
Old Ironsides and his Presbyterians.

And great have they been as disseminators of learning.
They founded the ancient college of New Jersey now
known as Princeton University. To their efforts are we
indebted for the colleges of La Fayette at Easton and
Washington-Jefferson College at Washington in Pennsyl
vania ; and Liberty Hall Academy, now called Washing
ton and Lee University, at Lexington, Virginia ; and
Chapel Hill in North Carolina.



PRESBYTERIAN LEXINGTON 239

And successful politicians and statesmen have they
been ; for Calhoun, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Pierce,
James Buchanan, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester A. Arthur,



Online LibraryJohn S. (John Sergeant) WiseThe end of an era → online text (page 17 of 35)