John S. (John Sergeant) Wise.

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Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and William
McKinley were all rich in this Scotch-Irish blood.

In his great work upon the Puritans, Douglass Camp
bell has admirably sketched the Scotch-Irish. Much has
been written of them of late years by writers less distin
guished ; and just now Professor John Fiske, under the
title of " Old Virginia and her Neighbors," has published
a most interesting account of the great Scotch-Irish migra
tion and its influences on our American civilization.

At Lexington, Virginia, these folk were and are, as
their ancestors have been for centuries, men of earnest,
thoughtful, and religious natures ; simple in their lives
to the point of severity, sometimes severe to the point of
simplicity ; intense in their religious fervor, yet strangely
lacking, as it seems to us, in that quality of mercy which
is the greatest attribute of religion ; loving and possess
ing education, yet often narrow-minded, in spite of thor
ough training ; almost ascetics in their wants, not bounti
fully hospitable, but reasonably courteous and considerate
towards strangers, and methodically charitable ; regard
ing revelry and dissipation of body or mind as worthy of
supreme contempt ; of dogged obstinacy, pertinacity, and
courage ; dominant forces in all things wherein they take
a part.

I had heard of their race, and heard them described,
long before I went there ; and now I was among them,
those old McDowells, and McLaughlins, and McClungs,
and Jackson s, and Paxtons, and Rosses, and Grahams,
and Andersons, and Campbells, and Prestons, and Moores,
and Houstons, and Barclays, and Comptons, and all the
tribe of Presbyterians of the valley. All they possessed,


and what they were, I curiously scrutinized as a type of
humanity wholly new to me.

Their impress was upon everything in the place. The
blue limestone streets looked hard. The red brick houses,
with severe stone trimmings and plain white pillars and
finishings, were stiff and formal. The grim portals of
the Presbyterian church looked cold as a dog s nose. The
cedar hedges in the yards, trimmed hard and close along
straight brick pathways, were as unsentimental as mathe
matics. The dress of the citizens, male and female, was
of single-breasted simplicity ; and the hair of those pretty
Presbyterian girls was among the smoothest and the flat
test things I ever saw.

Shall I describe their habitations ? Would it violate
the laws of hospitality to do so ? I hope not. We have
entered a hallway, tinted gray, furnished with an oaken
hat-rack and straight oak chair of Gothic features, and
passed into a parlor. Although it is autumn, the polished
floors are uncovered save by strips of deep-red carpet,
such as one sees in chapel aisles. There is a fireplace,
but the fires are unlit. The furniture is straight up and
down mahogany covered over with haircloth. I have
often wondered what a Presbyterian would do if he could
not secure mahogany haircloth furniture for his drawing-
room. The room is dark ; the red curtains are half drawn.
Upon the black marble mantelpiece, under a glass shade,
are cold, white wax flowers. On the walls are solemn
engravings of Oliver Cromwell, Stonewall Jackson, and
The Rock of Ages. A melodeon, with church music,
stands in the corner. If, perchance, it be a pianoforte,
it seems like a profanation. There is also a Gothic table,
on top of which is the family Bible, beside it a candle
stick, Jay s " Morning Exercises," and the " Life of
Hannah More." Drawn near to these is a long-armed,


low easy-chair. Facing the fireplace are two rocking-
chairs, and six others, all in haircloth, stand stiff as horse-
guards sentries about the walls.

If your call is timed in the evening, you will learn the
vises to which these articles are put, for, as nine o clock
approaches, the sweet little Presbyterian girl you are vis
iting will begin to fidget ; and when the hour strikes, the
family will file into the room with military silence and
precision. Before you know it, the head of the house will
occupy that chair by the table, and open that Bible, and
give you the benefit of at least twenty minutes of Chris
tian comfort. Then, if you have not the good sense to
leave, he will proceed to fasten the window-blinds.

If your visit is in the daytime, other things will sug
gest themselves to your mind. For example, you will
wonder what is the family dinner-hour. If you are so
fortunate as to receive a formal invitation in advance, you
will not only learn, but you will have a bountiful and well-
cooked meal, not, perhaps, an Episcopalian epicurean
feast, but bountiful and nutritious food. If, however,
your notion was to drop in unexpectedly, and take an in
formal family dinner, let me beg you to give it up. You
may go a hundred times, and the sleek-headed girl in pop
lin will give no sign, and the bell will never ring. She
would starve before she would ask you out, but she would
die before she would ask you in, for Presbyterians are not
built that way. Her father would immolate her for tak
ing such a liberty. The best you can hope for, on an occa
sion like that, is a cold red pippin on a cold white plate,
served where you sit shivering, in that vault-like parlor.

If you wish to be frisky with Miss Westminster, it is
possible in but one way. Ask her to go to church. Sun
day morning church is the most tumultuous of her gaye-
ties; Sunday night service is to her what an ordinary


dancing party would be, as compared with a state ball,
to Miss Litany ; and Wednesday evening lectures are to
her what excursions for ice-cream or soda-water are to
" unregenerate " girls.

My ! for wild hilarity commend me to a coterie of
strictly reared young female Presbyterians. An evening
spent among them is like sitting upon icebergs, cracking
hailstones with one s teeth.

Yet, dear reader, believe me, after one has tried it
awhile, surprising as the statement may seem, one comes
to like it. Now and again, one of them says something,
or does something, like ordinary mortals ; and what she
says or does is in such a fetching, fascinating, feminine
way that it makes one want to go again, and makes one
feel glad that such gentle, pure, refined, simple, and true
people countenance an outside barbarian like one s self
in their society.

There is, believe me, a lot of outcome in one of these
little, demure Presbyterian lassies. Of course, if she has
no better luck than to marry one of her own people, that
settles it ! She will go through life mooning and min
cing about, like a turkey hen come off her nest. She
will pass her life thinking that going to hear sermons
and lectures is the chief end of man, and that pippins,
spiced gingerbread, and cracked walnuts, served in a
chilly parlor, are fit Christian entertainments.

She may even live and die thinking she is happy, not
knowing any better.

But if, perchance, good fortune brings her a knight
with a feather in his bonnet, and it catches her little meek
eye, as it is mighty apt to do ; if, after prayerful consid
eration, her strait-laced parents decide that it is best for
her happiness to let her go, even at her soul s peril ; if,
all doubts and dangers past, she is borne triumphantly



away, her bonnet-box stuffed with the Shorter Catechism
and all orthodox kirk rudiments, I assure you it is
surprising how promptly the little bud expands, and how
quickly she adapts herself to new surroundings.

I speak whereof I know.

How long we have been in Lexington without reporting
for duty !



LOOKING eastward from the front of the tavern where
the stage-coach deposited us, the barracks, mess-hall, pro
fessors houses, parade ground, and limits of the Virginia
Military Institute were in view upon a hill about half a
mile distant.

My first care was to send a messenger with a note
announcing my arrival to my cousin Louis, who had pre
ceded me at the Institute by a year. When he came,
he explained that his tardiness was due to the length of
time it required for an application for permission to leave
the limits of the Institute to pass through the necessary
official channels.

His greeting was hearty and joyous ; it had been a
long time since he had seen any relative from the outside
world, and this little release was quite a lark. How well
and bright-eyed he looked in his tight-fitting shell jacket !
When we parted at Norfolk a year before, he was an
easy-going, slack-twisted little civilian, without particu
larly attractive dress or bearing. Now, he carried him
self like a fighting-cock. Exercise had hardened him
and developed his figure, his clothing fitted him like a
glove, and there was an easy confidence in his manner.
In a word, he had been licked into military shape.

We sallied forth together to report for duty at the
office of the superintendent, General Francis H. Smith.
His study was a very attractive place : it was a hexagonal


room, well lit ; bookcases stood about the walls, and it
was ornamented with a number of striking military pic
tures, chiefly French ; a bright wood-lire crackled in the
open fireplace. In a former chapter I alluded to General
Smith. He had, at the time about which I write, been
superintendent twenty-three years, although he was then
only about fifty.

Your elderly soldier is generally of one of two types :
one is the rubicund, thunderous type ; the other, the lean,
pale, spectacled, quiet type. There are modifications and
variations of these two generic classifications, of course :
but under one or the other the great mass of elderly
soldiers may be grouped.

To the latter belonged General Smith. He was tall,
thin, agile ; in youth he had been an extreme blonde ;
his lithe figure still bore a soldierly aspect. His face was
that of a student, with that expression emphasized by the
gold spectacles through which he looked keenly ; those
spectacles were so much a part of him that he was uni
versally known as " Old Spex." As he sat in his office
in his blue uniform, with one leg crossed over the other,
many a cadet has no doubt wondered how thin those long
legs really were, seeing how close they lay together. His
life had been given up entirely to his work as superin
tendent ; he had traveled abroad to study foreign schools
and secure their best features ; he was author of several
mathematical treatises, as well as a most admirable
teacher. A prominent churchman ; a man of abstemious
habits and boundless industry ; one of the best politicians
in the State, he knew every man of importance in Vir
ginia, and had the faculty of enlisting the interest of
politicians of all parties in the success of the Virginia
Military Institute. No matter what might be the acrimony
of factions, or the stress of public necessities in other


directions, his legislative appropriations never failed, and
support of his school never flagged. His tact in man
agement and insight into the character of cadets was
marvelous. His acquaintance with the minutest details
of every department in the school was perfect, and the
personal interest which he manifested in every cadet
intrusted to his care was at once a warning and a stimu
lus to the boy. He was in truth a very remarkable man ;
his peculiarities were as marked as his excellencies ;
and, while those peculiarities did not seriously detract
from him, they gave him a distinct individuality. A
monument to Colonel Thayer stands in front of the
United States Military Academy, describing him as the
father of the institution. One like it should be reared to
General Smith at the Virginia Military Institute, for to
it he was even more a father than was Thayer to West
Point, or Arnold to Rugby.

Behind those gold spectacles, and with those long,
thin legs lapped over each other, he sat at a table writing
as we entered and stood near the door, caps in hand, at
attention. He seemed engrossed; a moment later, he
lifted his eyes ; squinting a little and peering through his
glasses, he caught sight of us and exclaimed, " Ah-h !
who s this ? " Louis explained. " Well, young man,
how are you ? Glad to see you. How is your father ?
What have you studied ? How far have you been in
mathematics ? In French ? In Latin ? " And, going
straight at the matter in hand, he plied me with queries
until he knew all that was necessary ; then " Fourth-class
is best for him," he said.

Soon fixed up by the adjutant, we started for the com
mandant s office across the parade ground. The com
mandant of cadets, Major Scott Shipp, was a large man,
with close-trimmed black hair and beard, a solemn bear-


ing, and a deep voice. Although he was then but twenty-
four years of age, I thought he was forty. He remained
commandant for nearly thirty years after this, and is now
superintendent. In its fifty-eight years of life, the school
has had but two superintendents. Our business with the
commandant consisted of securing an assignment to a
room and to a company, and attending to some minor
details. Then we reported to my first sergeant, who was
no other than Benjamin Colonna, our room-mate.

Louis and I found my trunk at the sallyport, whither
it had been sent from the hotel, and lugged it off to the
arsenal, which stood in the quadrangle, for no trunks
were allowed in rooms. Cadet clothing was kept in a
large wardrobe, placed in each room, divided into com
partments which were assigned to the respective occu

The cadet barracks was a handsome four-storied build
ing, occupying three sides of a quadrangle, with towers
at the corners and at a sallyport with central arch. On
the inner side were three broad stoops running all around
the building, reached by stairways upon the stoops. The
cadet quarters opened upon these stoops. At the turrets,
the rooms were double, occupied in most instances by
tactical officers ; elsewhere, the rooms were single. The
ventilation, light, and heat of the quarters were excellent.
The furniture of each room consisted of a gun-rack,
washstand, wardrobe ; large oak table in the centre of the
room, under a gas-light ; a chair for each cadet, a book
rack and a blacking-stool, beds and bedsteads. Thirty
minutes after reveille, the beds were required to be rolled
up, strapped, and stood in the corner, flanked by the bed
steads folded. Beds could not be put down until after
tattoo. The occupants of the room were alternately de
tailed as orderly for a week, and each was held responsible


for observance of regulations and for the police of the
room, which was inspected at least twice a day.

On arrival at our rooms, I had a bluff but pleasant
welcome from Colonna, who called me " Mr. Rat," and, as
it was a rule of the Institute that every plebe should be
" bucked," he and Louis proceeded to attend to my case.
A bed-strap was buckled about my wrists ; I was ordered
up on the table and compelled to draw up my knees, over
which my bound arms were slipped ; a ramrod was run
under my knees and over my arms, and then I was rolled
over on my side, and Louis and Colonna, with a bayonet
scabbard, spelled CONSTANTINOPLE. The taps
given by these laughing friends were light, but sufficiently
stinging to make me appreciate what it might have been.

" Now, Rat, you have been bucked," laughed Colonna,
as they set me upright and loosened the cords. " If any
body asks you whether you have been bucked, say,
Yes, sir ; be sure to say sir, d ye understand ? Then,
if they ask you whose Rat you are, say, Mr. Colonna s
rat, sir. 9 Be sure to say sir, d ye understand ? And then
you take care to say as little more as you can, for it s
these long-tongued Rats that get into trouble, d ye under
stand ? " Yes, I understood. I resolved to keep that
mouth, that has gotten me in trouble all my life, shut

Up to now, I had been agreeably surprised. I expected
that I should be seized upon as soon as I entered the
barracks, but so far I had seen very few cadets about.
I did not realize that it was study-hours, at which time
the cadets were in their class-rooms, or confined to
quarters, and were strictly forbidden to visit, or to loiter
on the stoops or about the archway.

" What is that? " I asked, as a drum was beaten in the
area, its sounds reverberating through the barracks.


" First drum for dinner," said Louis ; " dinner roll-
call in five minutes," and he, Colonna, and Phillips began
polishing 1 their shoes.

"Now, Mr. Rat, if you don t want to be bully-
agged, you wait under the arch until I give the com
mand, Fall in ! when the clock strikes, and then run
to your place in ranks in front of barracks. My com
pany is on the left ; I 11 wait, before giving the command
4 Front, until I see you are in ranks, so you will not be

This thoughtful advice from Colonna I obeyed strictly,
so that nobody troubled me. I felt quite proud in ranks,
and answered to my name clearly. The companies were
side-stepped together, and then the first captain assumed
charge, broke the battalion into columns of fours, and
marched us off to the mess-hall. I had never seen a
figure quite so trim, or heard a voice quite so clarion, as
the first captain s. The crunching cadence of the step
of three hundred boys upon the gravel walk would have
made a muley cow keep step. Tramp, tramp, tramp we
went up the broad stairway of the mess-hall, and, as we
reached the hall, companies filed away to their respective
seats at the eight long tables. When all were in place,
the command " Seats " was given by the first captain, and
in another instant, where all had been silent, it was a
babel of voices. Colonna had his eye on me, and assigned
me a seat ; not up with him, of course, but down at the
foot with some other plebes.

It was a good, hot, smoking meal, better than I ex
pected, and every one of us had a good, hot, smoking
appetite, as was evidenced by the quick disappearance
of the food, and the cries from the heads of tables :
" Beef here, waiter," " Bread here, waiter," " Potatoes
here, waiter," which soon resounded through the hall


Nobody but the noD-commissioned officers, stationed at
the head and foot of the table, could address the waiters.
These later fairly ran in filling orders. I found a little
fellow sitting next to me who had only been in a day or
two, and we had some quiet, timid talk between our

" At-ten-tion I " rang through the hall after twenty-five
minutes consumed in consuming. Dead silence reigned
where everybody had been talking. u Rise up ! " and we
rose, re-formed in front of the mess-hall, were broken into
columns of fours, marched back to barracks, and as the
battalion reached its original position the command came,
44 Break ranks, march," which was the signal for a gen
eral mix-up, in a leisure period of thirty minutes which
followed each meal, during which cadets were allowed
to visit one another s rooms, and dispose of themselves
as they saw fit, until " Study drum " beat. I thought
trouble was in store for me then, for I discovered in the
mess-hall not less than a dozen former acquaintances,
most of whom were old cadets, and they discovered me.
I apprehended that they would have something to say
to me, and, knowing of my recent arrival, might amuse
themselves at my expense ; but it was not so bad as I
expected. Such of them as I met after the corps was
dismissed spoke to me with civility and passed on. It
was, as I afterwards learned, etiquette in an old cadet ac
quaintance not to torture a plebe whom he had known
elsewhere. Being old cadets, they would not associate
with a plebe, but, unless he was " impudent," they so far
recognized former acquaintanceship as to let him alone.

Before I reached the sallyport, however, several
strange, saucy, and piratical-looking young Hessians had
their eyes upon me, and my relief was very great when
Louis, my guardian angel, came hurrying down from A


Company, and with an air of authority said, " Here^
Mr. Rat, you come with me." His whole manner changed
as soon as we were out of their presence, and he said,
u Those chaps would have drawn you into conversation in
another minute, and then they would have had a lot of
fun out of you."

The permit to go out of limits, which Louis had ob
tained in the morning, was good until dress parade, and
he proposed that we should go out and about. Before
we left, I learned the meaning of his talk about " buying
apples with my coat." During the half hour after dinner,
a number of mountain women, with bags and baskets of
apples, appeared in front of barracks, and the cadets car
ried on the liveliest imaginable trading with them, ex
changing old clothes for apples.

At West Point, the cadet old clothes are religiously
preserved and sold, and their proceeds are applied to a
mess-fund. The interest on that fund is expended upon
the cadet mess, and the fund has already grown so large
that the character of cadet fare is much improved, and
the cost of the mess to cadets is materially reduced.
Think what might have been accomplished at the Vir
ginia Military Institute if this same policy had been
pursued ! Instead of that, for fifty-eight years the cadets
have been allowed to throw away their old clothes in the
most reckless fashion. I have seen many a cadet jacket
traded off for half a peck of apples ; and if a cadet were
really hungry, I think he would trade the coat on his
back for one apple-pie.

That afternoon our stroll took us down to the river,
where the terminus of the canal was located. There
were in those days no railroads running into Lexington.
The stage-coach and this primitive means of travel were
its only public means of communication with the outside


world. I soon learned where the laundries were, and
where the boys skated in cold weather, and what were
the different points of interest. Louis led me to the
house of an old Irishman who sold cider and cakes to the
cadets, and we regaled ourselves. Then we came back by
the rear way up the stream called the Nile, which runs
behind the Institute grounds, and clambered up the
bluffs and stole around to the bakery where old Judge,
the baker, gave us a hot loaf just drawn from the oven,
it having been cooked for the cadets supper. Louis
explained that we were out of limits now, as cadets were
forbidden to visit the bakery, and, if caught, received
five demerits and an extra tour of guard duty. The
sensation of disobeying orders was rather pleasant, I
confess. Judge was a wonderful old negro ; he had been
there many years. In appearance, he was a black Sancho
Panza, fat and puffing and jolly ; he was a darkey of
moods. Sometimes his mood was religious, sometimes
it was profane ; but, whether the one or the other, Tie
was always amusing.

Out of that first introduction grew a long friendship
with Judge, and when he confronted St. Peter, the pile
of bread stacked up against him in Heaven must have
been tremendous ; for every cadet who was at Lexington
in the thirty years of his stewardship received from him
at least ten loaves stolen from the Commonwealth of Vir
ginia. Bless his hot, jolly, fat, black, flour-smirched,
roguish memory ! His portrait, with his baker s cap
jauntily tipped, now adorns the cadet mess-hall in the
company of generals and other distinguished citizens

Then we visited old Keilly, another famous character.
Stone blind, the old fellow earned a good living making
hair mattresses for the cadets. He measured, cut, sewed,


trimmed, bound, filled, and knotted mattresses as well as
any one could do with the finest eyesight. He was an
ardent politician, and a devoted admirer of iny father.
The old man was always delighted to receive visitors,
and was full of cadet knowledge and reminiscence as
he sat there, blind as a bat, but working like a beaver.

Then we strolled to the regions in rear of the pro
fessors houses, where Louis showed me, near the bluffs,
in a wooded spot, a sort of natural amphitheatre, which
he described as the " fighting-ground." Seated on the
edge of this depression, he entered on a vivid and thrill
ing description of the last great battle here, which had
taken place between the present first captain, in his third
class year, and another cadet ; it was very interesting.

" But," he said, " of course he would not fight any

Online LibraryJohn S. (John Sergeant) WiseThe end of an era → online text (page 18 of 35)