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John S. (John Sergeant) Wise.

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of the hour. Men never hugged each other s wrists more
tightly than did we that day, and the prints of fingers
were so deep on my wrists I thought the blood would
start from them.

Cold ? It was fearful ! " Old Spex " had witnessed it
all. " Double-quick those men to barracks, Mr. Shriver,"
said he ; "I 11 ride forward to the hospital and have hot
grog served to them when they are well rubbed down.
You know I am a temperance advocate, but this is medi
cine. Look out there for little Nelson and Barton ; they
are nearly frozen." With that he managed to spur his fat
sorrel to a clumsy trot, and we went jogging back to bar
racks, warm enough by the time we reached there, but
not averse to the china mugs of steaming whiskey and
ginger which were served from a tin bucket by the
hospital steward. Nobody was the worse for it. Is it
not surprising what youngsters of that age can stand ?

The spring of 1863 opened, and with it began the hard
work, first in company and then in battalion drill. Be
sides this, the period of examinations was approaching. I
had been neither studious nor soldierly, and now, after
the severe drills, it was difficult to bring one s self down
to the hard study necessary to pass examinations. More
than once during this springtime of 1863, the corps had
lost valuable time from study in attending the burial of
distinguished officers, - first, a Captain Davidson, who
had fallen with great distinction ; then General Paxton,
a resident of Lexington ; and lastly came an announce
ment which fell like a pall upon the school.



268 THE END OF AN ERA

Stonewall Jackson was dead ! Could it be possible ?
We had believed that he bore a charmed life. The Insti
tute had sent a host of magnificent officers to the front.
There were Rhodes, Mahone, Lindsay, Walker, the Pat-
ton brothers, Lane, Crutchfield, McCausland, Colston,
and many others of lower rank ; but " Old Jack " was,
" from his shoulders and upwards, tallest among the
people," in the estimation of the cadets. His career had
not only been surpassingly brilliant, but it was altogether
surprising.

Of the old Presbyterian stock of the valley, his people
had not much social prominence, and he had gone to
West Point without particular advantages. After faith
ful but not exceptional service in Mexico, he had resigned
from the army and assumed a professorship here. His
presence was not striking, his manners were not attrac
tive, and his habits were so eccentric that he had not
ranked high as a professor ; even at the time of his most
astonishing victories, and when any cadet there would
have given all he possessed to be with him, the stories
of " Old Jack s " eccentricities made daily sport for the
cadets.

For example, it was a famous joke how, when he had
been drilling the third class in light artillery, with the
plebes as horses, the boys had drawn the linchpins from
the cannon wheels, and, as the guns made the turn near
the parapet, the wheels had come off and sent the pieces
tumbling over the slope. When this would happen, as
it often did, Major Jackson would gallop up, look ruefully
down the slope, and remark, without the slightest suspi
cion : " There must be something defective in the con
struction of these linchpins ; they seem inclined to fly out
whenever the pieces in rapid motion change direction."

He was not very friendly with General Smith ; it was



A NEW PHASE OF MILITARY LIFE 269

said that he would have nothing to do with him, except
officially. Professors were required to make their weekly
report to the superintendent at four o clock Friday after
noon. It was told of " Old Jack " that Friday afternoon,
within a few minutes of four o clock, he would appear
in front of the superintendent s office and walk up and
down until the clock struck four. It made no difference
whether it was raining, hailing, snowing, or freezing, he
would not enter until the clock struck ; then, with mili
tary precision, he would advance to the office of the super
intendent, salute, lay his report upon the table, face
about, and walk out. It was also related that during the
recitations he was frequently occupied in rubbing one
side of himself, under the impression, confided to a select
few, that one side of his body was not so well nourished
as the other, and was gradually wasting away.

When the cadet corps, in the spring of 1861, was
ordered to Camp Lee at Richmond, and its members were
put to drilling recruits, it is safe to say that as little was
expected of Colonel Jackson as of any member of the
faculty. Nobody suspected the great military genius, the
untiring energy, the marvelous resourcefulness, the thirst
ing fury, which lurked beneath that impassive and eccen
tric exterior.

But when the story of Manassas came, and men learned
that the day was saved by Jackson, standing like a stone
wall ; when, in his independent command, he fought and
won the battles of the valley campaign ; when, in the
seven days fighting at Richmond, he threw himself upon
the flank of McClellan ; and as he went on and on, mount
ing ever upward, until he became Lee s right arm, then
the men who had known him only as an odd professor
forgot his idiosyncrasies, and exulted that our school had
furnished the paladin of the Confederacy.



270 THE END OF AN ERA

It was a bitter, bitter day of mourning for all of us
when the corps was marched down to the canal terminus
to meet all that was mortal of Stonewall Jackson. We
had heard the name of every officer who attended the
remains.

With reversed arms and muffled drums we bore him
back to the Institute, and placed him in the section-room
in which he had taught. There the body lay in state
until the following day. The lilacs and early spring
flowers were just blooming. The number of people who
came to view him for the last time was immense : men
and women wept over his bier as if his death was a per
sonal affliction ; then I saw that the Presbyterians could
weep like other folks. The flowers piled about the coffin
hid it and its form from view. I shall ever count it a
great privilege that I was one of the guard who, through
the silence of the night, and when the crowds had de
parted, stood watch and ward alone with the remains of
the great " Stonewall."

Next day, we buried him with pomp of woe, the cadets
his escort of honor : with minute-guns, and tolling bells,
and most impressive circumstance, we bore him to his
rest. But those ceremonies were to me far less impressive
than walking post in that bare section-room, in the still
hours of night, reflecting that there lay all that was left
of one whose name still thrilled the world.

The burial of Stonewall Jackson made a deep im
pression upon the corps of cadets. It had been our
custom, when things seemed to be going amiss in the
army, to say, " Wait until Old Jack gets there ; he
will straighten matters out." We felt that the loss was
irreparable. The cold face on which we had looked
taught us lessons which have been dropped from the
curriculum in these tame days of peace.



A NEW PHASE OF MILITARY LIFE 271

Many a cadet resolved that he would delay no longer
in offering his services to his country, and, although the
end of the session was near at hand, several refused to
remain longer, and resigned at once.

The session of 1862-63 was drawing rapidly to a close.
Louis and I both became alarmed about passing our
examinations, he to pass to the second class and I to the
third. I had nearly the limit of demerits, for besides
other weaknesses, I had developed a love affair uptown
with a pretty little Presbyterian, and, being caught out
of limits, had been confined to barracks, and assigned
to several extra tours of guard duty. At last the event
ful 4th of July arrived, the day on which the gradu
ating class receives its diplomas and class standings, and
cadet officers for the ensuing year are announced ; it is
also the day when the band plays " Auld Lang Syne," at
hearing which a rat becomes an old cadet.

When the announcements were read out, Louis and I
found that we had passed our classes fairly well, but
far from brilliantly ; when it came to publishing commis
sioned officers from the new first class, our old friend and
room-mate, Colonna, moved up to second captain. To
our agreeable surprise, Louis received a good sergeant s
appointment. I was left a private ; I deserved it. All
those most interested in me had warned me such would
be the result if I pursued my trifling, heedless course ;
and now I stood chagrined and crestfallen, while others
received the honors. Nevertheless, I acknowledged to
myself that it was just, and swallowed whatever disap
pointment I felt, inwardly resolving, however, that next
year should tell a different tale.

Those familiar with the history of that period will not
forget that on this 4th of July, 1863, when we were
engrossed with these petty concerns, the great battle of



272 THE END OF AN ERA

Gettysburg was being fought, and the surrender of Vicks-
burg was taking place.

A few days before the final ceremonies, we had gone
into camp for the summer in a grove in rear of the super
intendent s house : there we remained for two months,
chiefly engaged in drilling the new cadets. It was a
stupid period for the graduates, and several of the sub-pro
fessors had departed for the war, and many of the second-
class men had received furloughs. The monotony of
camp life was broken in the latter part of August, when
we were given an arduous march to Covington to meet
a raiding party from West Virginia under General Aver-
ill ; but the general had displayed great good sense, as we
thought, by going elsewhere before our arrival.

The 1st of September, we broke camp, returned to bar
racks, and resumed academic duties with great earnest
ness.

I keenly realized the advantages lost by the trifling of
my first year, and, in the long periods for reflection in
camp, had fully determined to prove myself a better stu
dent and soldier than I had yet been. It is well enough
to have people laugh at one s reckless escapades and fool
ish antics, but those things count against a fellow when
it comes to choosing the boys who have the sterling stuff
in them.

Our old and tried mentor Colonna, being now an offi
cer, had gone to live with his own classmates in a tower
room. Louis and I, in solemn conclave, selected as our
room-mates " Squirrel " Overton, " Jack " Stanard, and a
little rat named Harris, a cousin of Overton. In these
we felt we had an earnest set of room-mates, and we re
solved that there was to be no more skylarking, no more
defiance of discipline, and a strictly moral and studious
aggregation. Then came the sultry June days, when it



A NEW PHASE OF MILITARY LIFE 273

was work, work, work at books preparing for examina
tions, and drill, drill, drill in the school of the battalion.

From reveille until four o clock p. M., we were in the
section-room reciting, or studying in our quarters on re
view. At four o clock, the battalion was formed for drill,
and exercised in the hot sun, until time for dress parade,
in every intricate manoeuvre. More than one little fellow
fell exhausted from the intense strain, and every cadet
in the corps was longing for the time when our arduous
apprenticeship would end.

One hot, steaming evening, Charley Faulkner, Phillips,
and I sat in an open window which overlooked the parade
ground. It was during the half hour of leisure after
dinner, the only leisure time that was left to us. The
parade ground shimmered with the noonday heat. Not a
leaf of the guard-tree was shaken by the slightest breeze.
We were commiserating each other at the sweltering pro
spect of two hours drill in a tight-fitting uniform under
the rays of such a sun.

" It s brutal," exclaimed Faulkner. " It s enough to
kill a man." We all called each other " men."

" Yes," said Phillips, " somebody will be sunstruck.
Poor little Jefferson fainted yesterday, and to-day is
worse."

" Then why don t you faint, Reuben ? " said I. " Char
ley and I will bring you off the field, and that will give us
all a rest."

" I 11 cut with you two fellows which shall faint,"
said Reuben. All matters of lot were decided by opening
a book, and the second letter, second line, left-hand page,
decided the matter: " a " was best, and "z" was worst.
Down came the book, and Reuben cut the lowest letter ;
so it fell to him to faint, and to us to bring him off the
field. When the drill-drum beat that afternoon, we fell



274 THE END OF AN ERA

in line with Reuben between us. As the company was
divided into platoons, we came near being separated, for
Faulkner was last man in our platoon. Breaking the
battalion into column of platoons, Shipp marched us to
the drill grounds. Oh, it was hot, hot enough to dis
arm suspicion at anybody s fainting.

Through all the evolutions we went, " Eight of com
pany s rear into column ; " " Close column by divisions
on second division, right in front ; " " To the rear by the
right flank, pass the defile," and what not. The file-
closers were so near to us we could not talk. All we
could do was to nudge Reuben, and we began to think he
would never faint.

At last Shipp trotted his great gray horse to the flank
of the battalion, and gave the command, " Forward into
line, forward double time, march." The perspira
tion was streaming from us.

" Now, if ever, Reuben," I whispered, as we started off ;
and, sure enough, Reuben made a feint of stumbling, his
gun pitched forward from his shoulder, and he threw
himself forward in as beautiful a faint as ever was feinted.

" Help him there, Faulkner and Wise," said the left
guide, as the battalion swept on ; and Charley and I bent
over him with infinite tenderness and concern. We were
about to pass some congratulations, when I looked up and
saw Shipp galloping, warning Phillips. That gave him
all the pallor he needed.

" Who is that man ? " said the major.

" Phillips, sir," said Faulkner and myself, rising and
saluting.

"Is he seriously ill?"

" No, sir, hope not, seems to be overcome by heat."

" Eh ! take him to barracks and summon the surgeon,"
said he, and, roweling the old gray, he galloped back to



A NEW PHASE OF MILITARY LIFE 275

the command. He did not order us to return, so Master
Faulkner and I remained in barracks to nurse the invalid,
after making a brave show of his helplessness as we
assisted him across the plain. In barracks, we at once
began business. Faulkner hurried to the hospital for a
bucket of ice for the invalid. A happy thought struck
me. I stole around behind Colonel Williamson s, and
milked his cow into our drinking-pail. We three then
sat up in a quiet room, drinking iced milk, watching the
battalion drill.

It was all very well until next evening parade, when we
heard ourselves reported for not returning to ranks, and,
in spite of some very plausible excuses given to the com
mandant, five more demerits were added to our already
overflowing score. The story of our ruse was all over bar
racks, and I have always thought it had reached Shipp s
ears.

Whether it did or not, I had by this time, and in many
ways, become known to the superintendent and command
ant as mixed up in, and capable of, any sort of prank or
dereliction which took place, a reputation by no means
enviable, let me assure you.



CHAPTER XVIII

A HUNT AND ALMOST A LICKING

THAT was a great flight of wild pigeons in the Brushy
Hills in the autumn of 1863, and nobody ever before saw
so many squirrels there. Louis and I had been behaving
well. Our class standing was good, and our conduct
exemplary.

We found it easy now to secure special permits, and
for privileges were content to apply on Fridays for leave
of absence from Saturday dinner roll-call. This gave
us substantially all day for hunting. General Philip St.
George Cocke, a wealthy patron of the school, had pre
sented to it a stand of small smooth-bore muskets, which
we found to be excellent fowling-pieces.

At this period of the war, no shot were purchasable in
stores. The devices to which we resorted to provide shot
may be interesting. Our lead we obtained from the roof
of an unoccupied outhouse. In our earlier efforts, we beat
the lead into thin sheets, then cut it into narrow strips,
then cross-cut the strips into cubes. These we rolled be
tween two drawing-boards until the pellets were approxi
mately round. That method proving slow, we shifted to
another. We obtained a piece of sheet tin, which we
perforated with small nail-holes. To this sheet of tin we
attached a long handle. Then we secured a brazier with
some charcoal and a ladle. With this outfit we heated
the lead on the brazier. When it was thoroughly melted,
one man poured it slowly from the spoon upon the sheet



A HUNT AND ALMOST A LICKING 277

of tin, while the other shook the tin gently over a bucket
of water. The lead dropped into the water in little glob
ules, through the perforations of the tin. When the
operation was complete, we had shot shaped like exclama
tion-points. All that remained was to cut off their tails,
and this we did with a patience and perseverance worthy
of a more important cause. The shot were heavier than
those we buy in stores, and very deadly in their effects.

One Friday night in October, 1863, we had obtained
a permit to be absent next day from breakfast roll-call
until dress parade. We had been so pressed with aca
demic and military duties that we had not manufactured
our supply of shot. Conic sections, Livy, and surveying
had me in their grip, and Louis was wrestling with cal
culus and engineering. Something must be done, or our
hunt, so cherished in anticipation, would fall to the ground.
True, we were now good boys, but we had not been such
so long that our old tricks were forgotten. In the busy
days preparatory to examinations, a favorite method of
studying out of hours had been to wait until after taps
inspection, affix blankets around the sides of the square
oaken table, and, crawling under the table with a candle,
to study there for an hour or two. To-night we resolved
to utilize that device.

It is providential that the fumes of the charcoal in the
brazier did not smother us both. It was close quarters
under there. With brazier, bucket, and lead spoon, little
room was left for the workmen ; but we made famous
progress. Our legs stuck out under the blankets, and
now and again we would pull out, or, so to speak, come to
the surface, and have a breathing spell. Oblivious of all
else, and unable to hear outside sounds, we had nearly
finished our task, when " Rap, rap, rap ! " came the knock
of an inspector upon our door. We blew out the light,



278 THE END OF AN ERA

and drew our legs inside, but the brazier sent forth a
ruddy glow which betrayed us.

" Who is orderly here ? " asked the voice of a sub-
professor. We crawled up, red and begrimed. " What
does this all mean ? " said he.

We mumbled out some explanations. "The sentinel
has been ordering lights out in this room for five min
utes," said he sternly. I glanced at the confounded blan
kets, and saw that the corner of one of them had been
sagged by our scrambling about, so that an aperture was
left, through which a beam of light went straight out the
glass doorway and shone upon a pillar of the stoop, mak
ing a flaring signal. Coming into barracks late, the offi
cer had seen it, and this visit was the result of our cairn
disregard of repeated cries of "Lights out in 28," which
cries we had not heard.

" Take that fire out and extinguish it. Open the win
dows, and let out these poisonous gases. It is a mercy
you are not smothered to death, and that the barracks
have not been set on fire," said the officer, as he departed.

On Monday morning, we answered to the following re
ports : " Lights up after taps ; repeated disobedience of
orders in failing to extinguish lights ; introducing fire
into barracks." We expected about ten demerits each,
to say nothing of extra tours and confinement to limits.
But my troubles were not ended with this episode. The
quartermaster s store was only opened upon Saturday
after breakfast. It was essential that both of us should
have certain things from the store in the morning before
starting on our hunt. With pass-books in hand, the cadets
who sought supplies formed in line, and were admitted to
the store in the order of their arrival. That we might
leave as early as possible, Louis and I cast lots to decide
which should remain from breakfast with the pass-books



A HUNT AND ALMOST A LICKING 279

and get near the store door. The one who went to break
fast was to bring the other man s meal buttoned in the
breast of his jacket. The lot to remain fell to me. When
Louis came back from breakfast, he found a very dam-
aged-looking comrade in our room ; and this is how it all
came about :

The store was on the fourth stoop, in a large room over
the archway. Only six or eight boys had remained from
breakfast. I was fourth or fifth in line. In front of me
were three plebes and an old cadet. While waiting, a
quarrel arose between the old cadet and the plebes about
their respective places in line. The old cadet insisted
that they should let him enter first, and they refused. It
was a cold, gray morning, and none of us were in pleasant
humor at being kept standing there shivering during the
long delay. The grumbling went on between them until
at last the old cadet punched the little fellow in front of
him in the ribs, and butted him with his knees, until he
began to cry. The boy s name was Logan. He was no
match for his antagonist. It was a mean piece of bully
ing, and such as no old cadet had the right to indulge in.
The old cadet had been there two years already, having
been found deficient the previous July ; so that, while
we were both now third-class men, he had been an old
cadet when I was a plebe. Our class relations had
been friendly enough, and at last I ventured to remon
strate in a concilatory way with him about his cruelty to
Logan.

To my surprise, he wheeled about and said : " What
have you got to do with it ? Maybe you want to take the
rat s part. Ever since you came here, you have been that
way." This was not true, for I had been a terror to
plebes in camp.

" No," I protested, still good-tempered. " But you



280 THE END OF AN ERA

have no right to take his place in line, and he is too small
to defend himself."

" You re a liar! " he blurted out.

" Don t say that," said I. " You and I are friends.
You don t mean it, and will be sorry when you are cool."

" Yes, I do mean it ! " shouted he. " You are a liar ;
and you sneaked out of the first row you got into when
you came here."

He proceeded no further in that story. I popped him
in the eye with the best left-hander I could plant ; and at
it we went, like, a pair of jack-snappers, the plebes dancing
about in wonder. He had a great reach. He fetched
me several very substantial cracks. Nevertheless, the
first blow I hit him gave me a decided advantage, and I
succeeded in closing with him and getting his head in
chancery. Thus holding him, I punched his nose and
eyes and mouth in fine form ; but, in spite of all I could
do, I felt his long, sinewy arm steal up my back, and his
fingers close with a choking grip upon my collar. Hug !
I hugged his head with all my might and main, as he
tugged to extricate himself.

" Stop that noise on fourth stoop ! " shouted the sentry
in the area, time and time again ; but we were too busy
to pay attention to his commands. We were panting like
two young bucks with locked horns. Renewing the
whacking at his head under my arm, I asked, " Have you
got enough ? " I knew he did not have enough. Still I
thought it would do no harm to inquire.

" No ! " roared he ; " I 11 give you enough before this
thing is over." With that I slung him around and tried
to throw him ; but his bow-legs seemed set as firmly as
the towers of the arch. I not only found that he could
stand punishment, but that he had the advantage of me
in wind.



A HUNT AND ALMOST A LICKING 281

The sentinel shouted for the officer of the day, and the
two commanded, " Stop that noise in barracks ! " as if
their throats would burst. At last, with a supreme effort,
he dragged himself out from under my arm, whirled me
about, seized me by the hair with both hands, dashed
me down to my knees, bumped my head upon the frozen
oak planks, and kicked me in the face. I saw a thousand
stars. The poor little rats were almost frantic.

" Got enough, eh? " said he ironically, as, panting from
his triumphant efforts, he planted me a savage uppercut



Online LibraryJohn S. (John Sergeant) WiseThe end of an era → online text (page 20 of 35)