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John S. (John Sergeant) Wise.

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esque little Lutheran churchyard, under the very shadow
of the village spire and among the white tombstones, a
six-gun battery was posted in rear of the infantry lines
of the enemy. Firing over the heads of their own troops,
that battery opened upon us the moment we came in
sight.

Away off to the right, in the Luray Gap, we could see
our signal corps telegraphing the position and numbers of



296 THE END OF AN ERA

the enemy. Our cavalry was galloping to the cover of the
creek to attempt to turn the enemy s left flank. Echols s
brigade, moving from the pike at a double-quick by the
right flank, went into line of battle across the meadow,
its left resting on the pike. Simultaneously its skirmish
ers were thrown forward at a run and engaged the enemy.
Out of the orchards and on the meadows, puff after puff
of blue smoke rose as the sharpshooters advanced, the pop,
pop, pop of their rifles ringing forth excitingly. Thun
dering down the pike came McLaughlin with his artillery.
Wheeling out upon the meadows, he swung into battery,
action left, and let fly with all his guns.

The cadet section of artillery pressed down the pike a
little farther, turned to the left, toiled up the slope in
front of us, and, going into position, delivered a plunging
fire in reply to the Federal battery in the graveyard. We
counted it a good omen when, at the first discharge of
our little guns, a beautiful blue- white wreath of smoke
shot upward and hovered over them. The town, which
a moment before had seemed to sleep so peacefully upon
that Sabbath morning, was now wrapped in battle smoke
and swarming with troops hurrying to their position.
We had their range beautifully. Every shell hit some
obstruction, and exploded in the streets or on the hill
sides. Every man in our army was in sight. Every posi
tion of the enemy was plainly visible. His numbers were
uncomfortably large ; for, notwithstanding his line of
battle already formed seemed equal to our own, the pike
beyond the town was still filled with his infantry.

Our left wing consisted of Wharton s brigade ; our
centre, of the 62d Virginia infantry and the cadet corps ;
our right, of Echols s brigade and the cavalry. Until
now, as corporal of the guard, I had remained in charge
of the baggage-wagon with a detail of three men,



THE MOST GLORIOUS DAY OF MY LIFE 297

Redwood, Stanard, and Woodlief. My orders were to
remain with the wagons at the bend in the pike unless we
were driven back. In that case, we were to retire to a
point of safety.

When it was clear that the battle was imminent, one
thought took possession of me, and that was, if I sat on
a baggage wagon while the corps of cadets was in its
first, perhaps its only engagement, I should never be able
to look my father in the face again. He was a grim old
fighter, at that moment resisting the advance on Peters
burg, and holding the enemy in check until Lee s army
could come up. I had annoyed him with importunities
for permission to leave the Institute and enter the army.
If, now that I had the opportunity to fight, I should fail
to do so, I knew what was in store for me, for he had a
tongue of satire and ridicule like a lash of scorpions.

Napoleon in Egypt, pointing to the Pyramids, told his
soldiers that from their heights forty centuries looked
down upon them. The oration I delivered from the tail
board of a wagon was not so hyperbolical, but was equally
emphatic. It ran about this wise : " Boys, the enemy is
in our front. The corps is going into action. I like fight
ing no better than anybody else. But I have an enemy
in my rear as dreadful as any before us. If I should re
turn home and tell my father that I was on the baggage
guard when the cadets were in battle, I know what my
fate would be. He would kill me with ridicule, which is
worse than bullets. I intend to join the command at
once. Any of you who think your duty requires you to
remain may do so."

All the guard followed. We left the wagon in charge
of the black driver. Of the four who thus went, one was
killed and two were wounded. We overtook the battalion
as it deployed by the left flank from the pike. Moving



298 THE END OF AN ERA

at double-quick, we were in an instant in line of battle,
our right resting near the turnpike. Rising ground in
our immediate front concealed us from the enemy.

The command was given to strip for action. Knap
sacks, blankets, everything but guns, canteens, and car
tridge-boxes, was thrown upon the ground. Our boys
were silent then. Every lip was tightly drawn, every
cheek was pale, but not with fear. With a peculiar, ner
vous jerk, we pulled our cartridge-boxes round to the
front, laid back the flaps, and tightened belts. Whistling
rifled shells screamed over us, as, tipping the hill-crest in
our front, they bounded past. To our right, across the
pike, Patton s brigade was lying down abreast of us.

" At-ten-tion-n-n ! Battalion forward ! Guide cen-
ter-r-r ! " shouted Shipp, and up the slope we started.
From the left of the line, Sergeant-Major Woodbridge
ran out and posted himself forty paces in advance of the
colors as directing guide, as if we had been upon the drill
ground. That boy would have remained there, had not
Shipp ordered him back to his post ; for this was no
dress parade. Brave Evans, standing six feet two, shook
out the colors that for days had hung limp and bedrag
gled about the staff, and every cadet leaped forward,
dressing to the ensign, elate and thrilling with the con
sciousness that this was war.

Moving up to the hill crest in our front, we were
abreast of our smoking battery, and uncovered to the
range of the enemy s guns. We were pressing towards
him at " arms port," moving with the light tripping gate
of the French infantry. The enemy s veteran artillery
soon obtained our range, and began to drop his shells
under our very noses along the slope. Echols s brigade
rose up, and was charging on our right with the well-
known rebel yell.



THE MOST GLORIOUS DAY OF MY LIFE 299

Down the green slope we went, answering the wild cry
of our comrades as their muskets rattled out in opening
volleys. " Double time ! " shouted Shipp, and we broke
into a long trot. In another moment, a pelting rain of
lead would fall upon us from the blue line in our front.

Then came a sound more stunning than thunder. It
burst directly in my face : lightnings leaped, fire flashed,
the earth rocked, the sky whirled round. I stumbled, my
gun pitched forward, and I fell upon my knees. Ser
geant Cabell looked back at me pityingly and called out,
" Close up, men ! " as he passed on. I knew no more.

When consciousness returned, the rain was falling in
torrents. I was lying upon the ground, which all about
was torn and ploughed with shell, and they were still
screeching in the air and bounding on the earth. Poor
little Captain Hill, the tactical officer of C Company, was
lying near me bathed in blood, with a frightful gash over
the temple, and was gasping like a dying fish. Cadets
Reed, Merritt, and another, whose name I forget, were
near at hand, badly shot. The battalion was three hun
dred yards in advance of us, clouded in low-lying smoke
and hotly engaged. They had crossed the lane which the
enemy had held, and the Federal battery in the grave
yard had fallen back to the high ground beyond. " How
came they there ? " I thought, " and why am I here ? "
Then I found I was bleeding from a long and ugly gash
in the head. That rifled shell, bursting in our faces,
had brought down five of us. " Hurrah ! " I thought,
" youth s dream is realized at last. I ve got a wound,
and am not dead yet."

Another moment found me on my feet, trudging along
to the hospital, almost whistling at thought that the next
mail would carry the news to the folks at home, with a
taunting suggestion that, after all the pains they had



300 THE END OF AN ERA

taken, they had been unable to keep ine out of my share
in the fun. From this time forth, I may speak of the
gallant behavior of the cadets without the imputation of
vanity, for I was no longer a participant in their glory.

The fighting around the town was fierce and bloody on
our left wing. On the right, the movements of Echols
and Patton were very effective. They had pressed for
ward and gained the village, and our line was now con
cave, with its angle just beyond the town.

The Federal infantry had fallen back to the second
line, and our left had now before it the task of ascending
the slope to the crest of the hill where the enemy was
posted. After pausing under the cover of the deep lane
to breathe awhile and correct the alignment, our troops
once more advanced, clambering up the bank and over
the stone fence, at once delivering and receiving a wither
ing fire.

At a point below the town where the turnpike makes a
bend, the cavalry of the enemy was massed. A momen
tary confusion on our right, as our troops pressed through
the streets of Newmarket, gave invitation for a charge of
the Union cavalry. They did not see McLaughlin s bat
tery, which had been moved up, unlimbered in the streets,
and double-shotted with grape and canister. The enemy s
cavalry dashed forward in column of platoons. Our
infantry scrambled over the fences and gave the artillery
a fair opportunity to rake them. They saw the trap too
late ; they drew up and sought to wheel about.

Heavens ! what a blizzard McLaughlin gave them !
They staggered, wheeled, and fled. The road was filled
with fallen men and horses. A few riderless steeds came
galloping towards our lines, neighed, circled, and rejoined
their comrades. One daring fellow, whose horse became
unmanageable, rode straight at our battery at full speed,



THE MOST GLORIOUS DAY OF MY LIFE 301

passed beyond, behind, and around our line, and safely
rejoined his comrades, cheered for his courage by his ene
mies. This was the end of the cavalry in that fight.

Meanwhile, the troops upon our left performed their
allotted task. Up the slope, right up to the second line
of infantry, they went ; a second time the Federal troops
were forced to retire. Wharton s brigade secured two
guns of the battery, and the remaining four galloped back
to a new position in a farmyard on the plateau, at the
head of the cedar-skirted gully. Our boys had captured
over one hundred prisoners. Charlie Faulkner, now the
Senator from West Virginia, came back radiant in charge
of twenty-three Germans large enough to swallow him,
and insisted that he and Winder Garrett had captured
them unaided. Bloody work, had been done. The space
between the enemy s old and new position was dotted with
dead and wounded, shot as they retired across the open
field ; but this same exposed ground now lay before, and
must be crossed by our own men, under a galling fire
from a strong and well-protected position. The distance
was not great, but the ground to be traversed was a level
green field of young wheat.

Again the advance was ordered. Our boys responded
with a cheer. Poor fellows ! They had already been put
upon their mettle in two assaults, exhausted, wet to the
skin, muddy to their eyebrows with the stiff clay ; some
of them actually shoeless after struggling across the
ploughed field : they, notwithstanding, advanced with tre
mendous earnestness, for the shout on our right advised
them that the victory was being won.

But the foe in our front was far from whipped. As
the cadets came on with a dash, he stood his ground most
courageously. The battery, now shotted with shrapnel
and canister, opened upon the cadets with a murderous



302 THE END OF AN ERA

fire. The infantry, lying behind fence-rails piled upon
the ground, poured in a steady, deadly volley. At one
discharge, Cabell, first sergeant of D Company, by whose
side I had marched for months, fell dead, and with him
fell Crockett and Jones. A blanket would have covered
the three. They were awfully mangled by the canister.
A few steps further on, McDowell sank to his knees with
a bullet through his heart. Atwill, Jefferson, and Wheel
wright were shot at this point. Sam Shriver, cadet cap
tain of C Company, had his sword arm broken by a minie
ball. Thus C Company lost her cadet as well as her pro
fessor captain.

The men were falling right and left. The veterans on
the right of the cadets seemed to waver. Colonel Shipp
went down. For the first time, the cadets appeared irre
solute. Some one cried out, " Lie down ! " and all obeyed,
firing from the knee, all but Evans, the ensign, who
was standing bolt upright, shouting and waving the flag.
Some one exclaimed, " Fall back and rally on Edgar s
battalion ! " Several boys moved as if to obey. Pizzini,
first sergeant of B Company, with his Corsican blood at
the boiling point, cocked his rifle and proclaimed that he
would shoot the first man who ran. Preston, brave and
inspiring, in command of B Company, smilingly lay down
upon his remaining arm with the remark that he would at
least save that. Colonna, cadet captain of D, was speak
ing low to the men of his company with words of encour
agement, and bidding them shoot close. The corps was
being decimated.

Manifestly, they must charge or fall back. And charge
it was ; for at that moment Henry Wise, " Old Chinook,"
beloved of every boy in the command, sprang to his feet,
shouted out the command to rise up and charge, and,
moving in advance of the line, led the cadet corps forward



OF THK

UNIVERSi TY



THE MOST GLORIOUS DAY OF MY LIFE 303

to the guns. The battery was being served superbly. The
musketry fairly rolled, but the cadets never faltered.
They reached the firm greensward of the farmyard in
which the guns were planted. The Federal infantry
began to break and run behind the buildings. Before the
order to limber up could be obeyed by the artillerymen,
the cadets disabled the teams, and were close upon the
guns. The gunners dropped their sponges, and sought
safety in flight. Lieutenant Hannah hammered a gunner
over the head with his cadet sword. Winder Garret out
ran another and lunged his bayonet into him. The boys
leaped upon the guns, and the battery was theirs. Evans,
the color-sergeant, stood wildly waving the cadet colors
from the top of a caisson.

A straggling fire of infantry was still kept up from the
gully now on our right flank, notwithstanding the masses
of blue retiring in confusion down the hill. The battal
ion was ordered to reform, mark time, and half wheel to
the right ; then it advanced, firing into the cedars as it
went, and did not pause again until it reached the pike,
having driven the last of the enemy from the thicket.
The broken columns of the enemy could be seen hurrying
over the hills and down the pike towards Mount Jackson,
hotly pressed by our infantry and cavalry. Our artillery
galloped to Rude s Hill, whence it shelled the flying foe
until they passed beyond the burning bridge that spanned
the Shenandoah at Mount Jackson.

We had won a victory, not a Manassas or an Appo-
mattox, but, for all that, a right comforting bit of news
went up the pike that night to General Lee, whose
thoughts, doubtless, from where he lay locked in the
death-grapple with Grant in the Wilderness, turned wea
rily and anxiously towards this attempted flank movement
in the valley.



304 THE END OF AN ERA

The pursuit down the pike was more like a foot-race
than a march ; our fellows straggled badly ; everybody
realized that the fight was over, and many were too ex
hausted to proceed farther.

As evening fell, the clouds passed away, the sun came
forth ; and, when night closed in, no sound disturbed the
Sabbath calm save that of a solitary Napoleon gun
pounding away at the smouldering ruins of the bridge.
Our picket-fires were lit that night at beautiful Mount
Airy, while the main body of our troops bivouacked on
the pike, a mile below Newmarket. Out of a corps of
225 men, we had lost fifty-six, killed and wounded.
Strange to say, but one man of the artillery detail re
ceived a wound. Shortly before sundown, after having
my head sewed up and bandaged, and having rendered
such service as I could to wounded comrades, I sallied
forth to procure a blanket and see what was to be seen.
When we stripped for action, we left our traps unguarded;
nobody would consent to be detailed. As a result, the
camp-followers had made away with nearly all of our
blankets.

I entered the town, and found it filled with soldiers,
laughing and carousing as light-heartedly as if it was a
feast or a holiday. In a side street, a great throng of
Federal prisoners was corralled; they were nearly all
Germans. Every type of prisoner was there ; some cheer
ful, some defiant, some careless, some calm and dejected.
One fellow in particular afforded great merriment by his
quaint recital of the manner of his capture. Said he,
" Dem leetle tevils mit der vite vlag vas doo mutch fur
us ; dey shoost smash mine head ven I was cry zurrender
all de dime." A loud peal of laughter went up from the
bystanders, among whom I recognized several cadets.
His allusion to the white flag was to our colors. We



THE MOST GLORIOUS DAY OF MY LIFE 305

had a handsome corps flag, with a white and gold ground
and a picture of Washington ; it disconcerted our adver
saries not a little. Several, whom I have met since then,
tell me that they could not make us out at all, as our
strange colors, diminutive size, and unusual precision of
movement made them think we must be some foreign
mercenary regulars.

While standing there, my old partner Louis came run
ning up, exclaiming, " Holloa ! Golly, I am glad it is no
worse ; they said your head was knocked off." Then he
held up his bandaged forearm, in which he had a pretty
little wound. " Say, are you hungry ? There is an old
lady round here on the back street just shoveling out
pies and things to the soldiers."

Louis and I were both good foragers, so away we scam
pered, and relieved the dear old soul of a few more of
her apparently inexhaustible supply. Then we started off
to hunt up Henry. We had a good joke on him, but
were afraid to tell it to him. Several of the cadets de
clared that, notwithstanding his piety, he had at the
pinch in the wheatfield, when he ordered the charge, so
far forgotten himself that he used some very plain old
English expletives, as in days of yore. When we ventured
to suggest it, he grew indignant, and he was such a se
rious fellow that we were afraid to press him about it ;
when we found him, he gave us lots of sport. He was very
tall and very thin. He had gone into action wearing the
long-tailed coat of a Confederate captain. In the last
charge, an unexploded canister had literally carried away
his hind coat-tails and the pipe and tobacco in the pockets,
without touching him. Probably he was so close to the
guns that the bands of the canister had not burst when
it passed him. However this may have been, when we
found him, his coat-tails were hanging in short shreds



306 THE END OF AN ERA

behind, while in front they were intact. He was involun
tarily feeling behind him, bemoaning the loss of his pipe
and tobacco, and looked like a Shanghai rooster with his
tail-feathers pulled out.

The jeers and banterings of the veterans had now
ceased ; we had fairly won our spurs. We could mingle
with them fraternally and discuss the battle on equal
terms : glorious fellows those veterans were. To them
was due ninety-nine one-hundredths of the glory of the
victory, yet they seemed to delight in giving all praise to
" dem leetle tevils mit der vite vlag." The ladies of the
place also overwhelmed us with tenderness, and as for
ourselves, we drank in greedily the praise which made us
the lions of the hour.

Leaving the village, we sought the plateau where most
of our losses had occurred. A little above the town, in
the fatal wheatfield, we came upon the dead bodies of
three cadets ; one wearing the chevrons of a first sergeant
lay upon his face, stiff and stark, with outstretched arms.
His hands had clutched and torn up great tufts of soil
and grass. His lips were retracted ; his teeth tightly
locked; his face as hard as flint, with staring, glassy
eyes. It was difficult indeed to recognize that this was
all that remained of Cabell, who a few hours before had
stood first in his class, second as a soldier, and the peer
of any boy in the command in every trait of physical and
moral manliness. A short distance removed from the
spot where Cabell fell, and nearer to the position of the
enemy, lay McDowell. It was a sight to rend one s
heart ! That little fellow was lying there asleep, more
fit indeed for a cradle than a grave ; he was about my
own age, not large, and by no means robust. He was a
North Carolinian ; he had torn open his jacket and shirt,
and even in death, lay clutching them back, exposing a



THE MOST GLORIOUS DAY OF MY LIFE 307

fair, white breast with its red wound. We had come too
late : Stauard had breathed his last but a few moments
before we reached the old farmhouse where the battery
had stood, now used as a hospital. His body was still
warm, and his last messages had been words of love to his
room-mates. Poor Jack, playmate, room-mate, friend,
farewell ! Standing there, my mind sped back to the
old scenes at Lexington when we were shooting together
in the brushy hills ; to our games and sports ; to the
night we had gone to see him kneel at the chancel for
confirmation ; to the previous night at the guard-fire,
when he confessed to a presentiment that he would be
killed ; to his wistful, earnest farewell when we parted at
the baggage-wagon that morning ; and my heart half
reproached me for my part in drawing him into the fight.
The warm tears of youthful friendship came welling up
to the eyes of both of us for one we had learned to love
as a brother ; and now, thirty-four years later, I thank
God life s bufferings and the cold-heartedness of later
struggles have not yet diminished the pure evidence of
boyhood s friendship. A truer-hearted, braver, better fel
low never lived than Jacquelin B. Stanard.

A few of us brought up a limber chest, threw our dead
across it, and bore their remains to a deserted storehouse
in the village. The next day, we buried them with the
honors of war, bowed down with grief at a victory so
dearly bought.

The day following that, we started on our return march
up the valley, crestfallen and dejected. The joy of vic
tory was forgotten in distress for the friends and com
rades dead and maimed. We were still young in the
ghastly game, but we proved apt scholars.

On our march up the valley, we were not hailed as sor
rowing friends, but greeted as heroes and victors. At



308 THE END OF AN ERA

Harrisonburg, Staunton, Charlottesville, everywhere,
an ovation awaited us such as we had not dreamed of,
and such as has seldom greeted any troops. The dead and
the poor fellows still tossing on cots of fever and delirium
were almost forgotten by the selfish comrades whose
fame their blood had bought. We were ordered to Rich
mond : all our sadness disappeared. What mattered it
to us that we were packed into freight-cars ? it was great
sport riding on the tops of the cars. We were side
tracked at Ashland, and there, lying on the ground by
the side of us, was Stonewall Jackson s division. We
had heard of them, and looked upon them as the greatest
soldiers that ever went into battle. What flattered us
most was that they had heard of us.

While waiting at Ashland, a very distinguished-looking
surgeon entered the car, inquiring for some cadet. He
was just returning from the battlefield of Spotsylvania.
I heard with absorbed interest his account of the terrible
carnage there ; and when he said he had seen a small tree
within the " bloody angle " cut down by bullets, I turned
to Louis and said, " I think that old fellow is drawing
a longbow." The person speaking was Dr. Charles Mc-
Gill. I afterwards learned that what he said was liter
ally true.

At the very time when we were lying there at Ashland,
the armies of Grant and Lee, moving by the flank, were
passing the one all about us, the other within a few miles
of us, from the battlefields of Spotsylvania Court House
and Milford Station to their ghastly field of second Cold
Harbor. We could distinctly hear the firing in our
front. We reached Richmond that afternoon, and were
quartered in one of the buildings of the Fair Grounds,
known as Camp Lee. It is impossible to describe the
enthusiasm with which we were received.



THE MOST GLORIOUS DAY OF MY LIFE 309

A week after the battle of Newmarket, the cadet corps,
garlanded, cheered by ten thousand throats, intoxicated



Online LibraryJohn S. (John Sergeant) WiseThe end of an era → online text (page 22 of 35)