John S. (John Sergeant) Wise.

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been reported only slightly wounded. We were talking
of his brigade-inspector, a member of his staff, a favorite
nephew, who had always been more like a son than a

" Yes, very seriously," he said ; " at first we thought
it a mere scalp wound like yours, but his brain is affected
now, and I apprehend the most serious result."

I soon discovered that my own future was causing him
great anxiety, and that before my coming, notwithstanding
all the cares and anxieties surrounding him, he had been
thinking and planning about me. He had not, perhaps,
even confessed it to himself, but his plans involved put
ting me in a place of safety. He told me that General
Kemper, of Gettysburg fame, now permanently disabled
by the wounds received there, was organizing the Virginia
reserve forces, that is, men over forty-five years old and
boys under eighteen ; that, in doing so, the services of a
large number of drill-masters would be required; that they
would have the rank of second lieutenants, and be assigned
to staff duty in active service as soon as their work as
drill-masters was completed ; and, finally, that he had
already been in correspondence with General Kemper,
who was an old friend, and had secured the promise of
one of these appointments for me.


It was all put very attractively and very seductively,
but I saw the motive very clearly. I felt rebellious about
it, but could not but love the dear old fellow all the
more, and did not blame him, so fearless himself, for lov
ing me to the point of pardonable cowardice concerning
myself. Knowing his sacrifices and sufferings, I felt that
I had no right to be refractory just then ; and the idea
of being a lieutenant, with bars on my collar, tickled my
vanity not a little.

I was awakened in the morning by our servant Smith
exclaiming, as he awoke father, " I declar , Marster, it looks
like Gin l Mahone dun caught de whole Yankee army."

" What s that ? " exclaimed father, springing out of

Then Smith informed us that during the night a great
number of prisoners, captured the preceding evening by
General Mahone, had been brought into Petersburg, and
were at that moment confined under guard on a piece of
meadow in rear of our stable, near what were known as
the Ettrick Mills. Dressing quickly, we walked down to
where the prisoners were, and there we found over seven
teen hundred Union soldiers, captured the preceding day
from the divisions of Generals Mott and Gibbons by
General Mahone.

We ascertained in a general way what had occurred.
My father inquired for General Mahone, and was told he
would be down a little later ; he left a message requesting
General Mahone to call by his headquarters. They had
been warm friends, personal and political, for years ; my
father had faith in his ability, and had helped him mate
rially in his early struggles, and he in turn thought the
" Old General," as he always called him, one of the
greatest of men. We had just finished breakfast when,
trotting up through the yard, followed by a soldier on a


sway-backed, flea-bitten gray, came little General Ma-

He was the sauciest-looking little manikin imaginable ;
he rode a diminutive blood-like bay mare, fat, sleek, and
well-groomed, as if no war were going on ; she was quick
and nervous, and tossed her head, and champed at her bit,
and sidled about like a real live horse, instead of being
poor, jaded, and half asleep, as were many others ; her
trappings, too, were expensive, new, and stylish. The
little general looked like a perfect tin soldier. He threw
his reins to the orderly and dismounted. His person and
attire were simply unique : he was not over five feet
seven inches tall, and was as attenuated as an Italian
greyhound ; his head was finely shaped ; his eye, deep-set
beneath a heavy brow, was very bright and restless ; his
hair was worn long ; his nose was straight, prominent,
and aggressive ; his face was covered with a drooping
mustache and full beard of rich chestnut color and ex
ceeding fine texture ; he wore a large sombrero hat, with
out plume, cocked on one side, and decorated with a
division badge ; he had a hunting-shirt of gray, with
rolling collar, plaited about the waist, and tucked into
his trousers, which were also plaited about the waist
band, swelled at the hips, and tapering to the ankle ;
while he wore boots, his trousers covered them ; those
boots were as small as a woman s, and exquisitely made ;
his linen was of the very finest and softest, nobody could
guess how he procured it ; and when he ungloved one
little hand, it was almost as diminutive and frail as the
foot of a song-bird ; he had no sword, but wore a sword-
belt with the straps linked together, and in his hand he
carried a slender wand of a stick. Altogether, he was the
oddest and daintiest little specimen of humanity I had
ever seen. His voice was almost a falsetto tenor.


" Ah ! my dear general," he exclaimed, advancing
cheerily, and extending his hand ; " I received your mes
sage and was delighted, for I can never pass you by."
Kef using to have breakfast replaced, he said, "No, no, no,
you know I am tortured with my old enemy, dyspepsia. I
can take nothing but milk ; and I suffer so without that
that I have brought my Alderney cow along with me in
all our campaigns."

Most of the staff he knew ; as he looked inquiringly at
me, my father presented me. A bright, affectionate smile
spread over his face.

" Good boy ! " said he ; "I knew the old Virginia Mili
tary Institute would show folks what fighting is, if she
ever had a chance." Then he turned to my father and
said, " General, give him to me ; I 11 have plenty for him
to do." That remark cost the old gentleman many an
anxious hour.

Then the party sat down, and Mahone with his little
stick, and in his peculiar graphic way, drew in the sand
the diagram of yesterday s operations, and explained how
he and his gallant division had " doubled em up," as he
loved to call it. And this is how it was :

Grant s left and our right were south of Petersburg,
near the Jerusalem plank road. Grant had a way of
putting one line immediately opposite us to occupy us,
and then forming a second line a mile or so in rear, which
he would extend beyond the first, and then throw it
forward. By this process he sought to envelop our right
flank. Learning that the Union troops on our right were
in this position, General Lee sent out General Cadmus
Wilcox, with a division of A. P. Hill s corps, to take posi
tion in rear of the enemy s rear line, and General Mahone,
with his division, to interpose between the enemy s two
lines and attack the line nearest to us. When Wilcox


heard Mahone s attack upon the first line, he was to
attack the rear of the second line.

Mahone went in, took his position, attacked, " doubled
up " Grant s left, ran the Union soldiers out of their own
lines into ours, and captured 1742 prisoners, four light
guns, and eight standards, and Wilcox spent the day
fumbling and fiddling about and doing nothing. From
then until now he has been explaining, sometimes saying
A. P. Hill never fully informed him of what he was ex
pected to do, sometimes claiming that Mahone acted with
out cooperating with him, and always disposed to grumble
and try to put the blame upon Mahone for achieving a
success so much more brilliant than his own.

Be that as it may, " Little Billy Mahone," that sunlit
June morning, was one of the brightest, merriest little
soldiers in the Confederacy, and never imagined, as he
told us how it was done and chuckled over the surprise
of the enemy, that any one would afterwards blame him
for what he had done. Even then he had, by his brilliant
work, gained such lodgment in General Lee s regard that
he was rapidly taking rank in his confidence alongside of
Longstreet and A. P. Hill.

As he mounted his little thoroughbred, clapped his
spurs to her, touched his hat, and galloped away, I felt
as if I would give anything in this world if my father
would consent to his proposition, " Give him to me."

A little later, we walked down to the hospital, and
found my poor cousin delirious ; in a day or two he was
dead, and our family contributed one more victim to the
Juggernaut of war.



FOLLOWING close upon Mahone s successful manoeuvre
came the raid of General Wilson around our right flank,
whereby he attempted to destroy General Lee s line of
supply, the Southside Railroad. He was promptly and
hotly attacked and driven off near Black s and White s
Station by General W. H. F. Lee ; then, pursuing the
line of the Danville Railroad, he was repulsed at Staun-
ton River bridge by local militia ; turning back from
that point to rejoin the Union army, Hampton, Fitz Lee,
Heth, and Mahone attacked him near Reams s Station,
and handled him so roughly that he became the laughing
stock of Lee s army. We at Petersburg saw nothing of
these operations, but the incidents of Wilson s discomfi
ture and final rout furnished merriment for the camps
during the ensuing period of comparative inactivity.

About the middle of July, I visited Richmond to in
quire about my appointment as drill-master. General
Kemper s reception was pompous ; he was a striking-
looking man, notwithstanding a waxen pallor proceeding
from the severe wounds he had received at Gettysburg ;
he apparently suffered great pain ; hobbling back and
forth upon his crutches, he descanted, with loud voice and
consequential manner, upon the noble work of preparing
raw troops for service in the field. He also indulged in
sentimental flights upon military glory, not failing to
refer to the fact that he was the only survivor of Pickett s


three brigadiers who entered the fight at Gettysburg.
General Kemper had a good record as a soldier, both in
Mexico and in our own service ; otherwise, judging by
manner and conversation alone, he would have been
classed as a Bornbastes Furioso.

The upshot of our interview was the promise of a com
mission, coupled with the information that my duties
under it would not begin before October 1, as his depart
ment was not yet fully organized ; that was delightful, for
Petersburg had fascinated me, and I hurried back there.
My father was not overpleased at my reappearance. He
had depended upon his friend Kemper to put me away
in some safe place ; I, on the other hand, still cherished
the hope that he might yet listen to Mahone : s request
that he should give me to him.

If a boy just closing the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the
j3Cneid, should be permitted to behold their heroes in
the flesh, and performing the valorous deeds which im
mortalize them, fancy what would be his ecstasy ! Yet,
for three years past, modern heroes had come upon the
stage who were, in my enthusiastic estimate of their
powers, second to no half -clothed ancient whose deeds are
celebrated by Homer or Virgil.

Until now, I had lived in torturing apprehension lest
a perverse fate should deny me opportunity to see them,
and to follow, however humbly, leaders who had been
the subject of my thoughts by day and dreams by night
since the great struggle began. Here they were all about
me ; a house, or a tent by the roadside, decorated with
a headquarters flag, guarded by a few couriers, was all
that stood between their greatness and the humblest pri
vate in the army. They were riding back and forth, and
going out and coming in at all hours, so that everybody
saw them.


Two of the immortals of that army had been snatched
away before my day, Stonewall Jackson of the infantry,
and Jeb Stuart of the cavalry. But the presence of a
glorious company still gave romantic interest to the deeds
of the Army of Northern Virginia. Robert E. Lee, Beau-
regard, A. P. Hill, Ewell, Anderson, Hampton, Pickett,
Mahone, W. H. F. Lee ("Rooney"), Gordon, Fitz Lee,
Fields, Heth, Hoke, and a host of lesser lights were still
actors in its heroic struggles. The first shall be last in
the description of these men as I saw them almost daily.
Of Anderson, Fields, and Hoke I remember very little,
and Longstreet was absent.

Next to General Lee in point of rank and fame was
General Beauregard. He had been hurried up with his
command in May from Charleston to defend Petersburg
until Lee s army would reach the scene. Under him, my
father s command had borne the brunt of the first assaults
upon Petersburg. He was attached to General Wise, and
as he frequently visited our quarters, I saw him often.
Beauregard was a soldier of decided ability, and deserves
great credit for the early defense of Petersburg. He was
heavily handicapped throughout the war by the dislike of
Mr. Davis. If he had been given more favorable opportu
nities, General Beauregard would occupy a more prominent
place in the history of the civil war. In appearance, he
was a petite Frenchman. His uniform fitted to perfection,
he was always punctiliously neat, his manners were fault
less and deferential. His voice was pleasant and insinu
ating, with a perceptible foreign accent. His apprehen
sion was quick, his observation and judgment alert, his
expressions terse and vigorous. Like many of our other
distinguished soldiers, especially of his race, he was fond
of the society of the gentler sex, and at his best when in
their company.


General A. P. Hill was the opposite of General Beau-
regard in appearance and in manner. He was of the old-
fashioned American type of handsome men. He was what
men call a " men s man." He had a high brow, a large
nose and mouth, and his face was covered with a full,
dark beard. He dressed plainly, not to say roughly. He
wore a woolen shirt, and frequently appeared, especially
in action, attired in a shell jacket. About his uniform he
had little or no ornamentation, hardly more, in fact, than
the insignia of rank upon his collar. Beauregard, like a
true Frenchman, was often accompanied by a full staff.
Hill, on the other hand, appeared to care little for a staff.
When he was killed, at the time our lines were broken
and Petersburg evacuated, although he was a lieutenant-
general, he was in advance of his line, accompanied by a
single courier. General Hill gave the impression of being
reticent, or, at any rate, uncommunicative. Neither in
aspect nor manner of speech did he appear to measure
up to his great fighting record. Yet great it was, for he
enjoys the unique distinction of having been named by
both Lee and Jackson during the delirium of their last

When Stonewall was unconscious and dying, " A. P.
Hill, prepare for action," was one of the last things he
said. When, long after the war had ended, General Lee
lay unconscious, breathing his last, in quiet Lexington, he
exclaimed, "A. P. Hill must move up." A. P. Hill
would seem to have been the one to whom both these
great leaders turned in a great crisis, as if feeling that, if
he could not save the situation, nothing could. What
nobler tribute from his commanders could a soldier wish ?
Yet, illustrious as were the services of General Hill, I do
not recall ever hearing anybody speak of a close intimacy
with him, or of his being deeply attached to any individ-


ual. He appeared to have no interest in the fair sex.
His soul seemed concentrated and absorbed in fighting.
What success he might have had in independent com
mand, no one can conjecture. His fame rests in his intel
ligent, tireless, and courageous execution of the commands
of Lee and Jackson.

Dear old General Ewell ! No Southern soldier can re
call his name without a flush of pride. Posterity will
class him, under Lee and Jackson, with men like Picton
under Wellington. When I first saw him, old " Fighting
Dick," as he was called, had lost a leg ; but he was still
in the business enthusiastically, as if he possessed as many
legs as a centipede. He was attached to my father. Our
families were intimate. He would ride up to our quar
ters, and, seated on horseback, talk by the hour over the
military and political outlook. He said his wooden leg
made it too much trouble to dismount and remount. Re
moving his hat to catch the summer breezes, he displayed
a dome-like head, bald at the top, the side-locks brushed
straight forward ; his fierce, grizzled mustaches sticking
up and sticking out like those about the muzzle of a ter
rier. Fighting was beyond question the ruling passion of
his life. His eye had the expression we see in hawks and
gamecocks. Yet the man s nature, in every domestic and
social relation, was the gentlest, the simplest, the most
credulous and affectionate imaginable. He was small of
stature, and his clothes, about which he was indifferent,
looked as if made for a larger man. Up to the time he
lost his leg, he was regarded as the toughest and most en
during man in the army. Not by any means an ascetic,
he could, upon occasion, march as long, sleep and eat as
little, and work as hard, as the great Stonewall himself.

The commander of Lee s cavalry at this time was
General Wade Hampton, of South Carolina. My ideas


of cavalrymen had been derived to a large extent from
Lever s troopers in " Charles O Malley," one of the most
fascinating books ever placed in the hands of boys with
military inclinations. Jeb Stuart s leadership of the Con
federate cavalry had elevated that ideal somewhat, without
detracting from the gallant, devil-may-care recklessness
pervading the story of the Irish dragoon. The fighting
morale of Stuart s cavalry was nowise impaired under the
dashing leadership of Hampton. He was as dauntless
as Stuart, and, if anything, a more distinguished-looking
man. Thoroughly inured to fatigue by a lifetime spent
in the saddle or in the field, his reputation as a sports
man was second only to his fame as a cavalryman. A
born aristocrat, his breeding showed itself in every fea
ture, word, and look. Yet his manners and bearing with
the troops were so thoroughly democratic, and his fear
lessness in action so conspicuous, that no man ever excited
more enthusiasm. He rode like a centaur, and possessed
a form and face so noble that men vied with women in
admiration of General Hampton.

His two most prominent lieutenants were William
Henry Fitzhugh Lee and Fitzhugh Lee ; the former a
son, the latter a nephew, of the commander of the army.
These cousins were strikingly unlike.

General William H. F. Lee, familiarly called " Rooney,"
had lost much time from active service. He was captured
early in 1863, and detained in prison until about May,
1864. Upon his return to active service, he quickly rees
tablished himself by energetic work ; and the manner in
which he attacked and followed up General Wilson fixed
upon him anew the affections of the army. He was an
immense man, probably six feet three or four inches tall ;
and, while not very fleshy, I remember that I wondered,
when I first saw him, how he could find a horse powerful


enough to bear him upon a long ride ! In youth, he had
figured as stroke-oar at Harvard. Although of abste
mious habits, his complexion was florid. His hands and
feet were immense, and in company he appeared to be
ill at ease. His bearing was, however, excellent, and his
voice, manner, and everything about him bespoke the
gentleman. Speaking of cavalry, a horse simile is admis
sible. " Rooney " Lee, contrasted with Hampton, sug
gested a Norman Percheron beside a thoroughbred ; Gen
eral Fitzhugh Lee, a pony-built hunter. I have known all
the Lees of my day and generation, the great general, his
brothers, his sons, nephews, and grandsons, and Gen
eral " Rooney " Lee I regarded and esteemed more highly
than any of the name, except his father. Yet he was the
least showy of that distinguished family. This gentleman
a gentleman always and everywhere would have
made a more conspicuous reputation in the cavalry, if the
war had not ended so soon after his return from his long
imprisonment. He had not much humor in his composi
tion, although keenly appreciative of it in others. He
was a widower in 1864, and nothing of a society man,
although a gallant admirer of women. After the war, he
married a beautiful descendant of Pocahontas, Miss Tabb
Boiling, of Petersburg. He had none of the tricks which
gain popularity, but somehow he grappled to him the
men of his command with hooks of steel, and is remem
bered by his veterans with as much affection as any offi
cer in Lee s army.

His opposite in everything but courage was his cousin,
Fitzhugh Lee, called " Fitz " by everybody. Fitz Lee
combined in himself not only the blood of the Lees, but
of George Mason, one of the greatest of our Revolutionary
leaders. The strain of jollity pervading him probably
came from the Masons ; for while " Light Horse Harry"


was in his day a rattling blade, the Lees were, as a rule,
quiet folk. His father, Commodore Smith Lee. was all
gentleness and urbanity. On the other hand, the Masons,
from the first George Mason, of Stafford, who sympa
thized with Bacon in his rebellion, down to the grand
father of Fitz Lee, convey the impression of a decided
fondness for " fighting, fiddling, and fun." Fitz gradu
ated at West Point in 1856, more distinguished for horse
manship than anything else. Doubtless he might have
done better if he had tried. He had hosts of friends, and
no end of enjoyment, and took to the cavalry as a duck
does to water. In his service upon the plains prior to
the war, an Indian found his short, stout thigh a good
pincushion for a feathered arrow, and after his conva
lescence, he was assigned to duty as cavalry instructor at
the United States Military Academy. From that position
he resigned at the outbreak of the war. He was now, at
the age of twenty-nine, a brigadier-general, a bachelor,
and gay cavalier of ladies.

The first time I ever saw him was in June, 1864, in
Richmond. In those days Third Street, leading out to
the pretty heights of Gamble s Hill, was the favorite even
ing promenade. The people of Richmond, save such as
visited friends in the country, remained in town through
out the summer, for no places of public resort were open,
and nobody had the means to go, if they had been
open. On summer nights the better classes, maid and
matron, old men, high officers, soldiers, boys and girls,
strolled back and forth on Third Street to catch the
southern breeze upon the hill, cooled by its passage
across the falls of the James ; to watch the belching
furnaces of the Tredegar cannon foundry on the river
banks below ; and to listen to the band which sometimes
played upon the hill. While thus diverting myself one


evening with a party of young friends, we saw a string
of cavalry horses held in front of the residence of a pro
minent citizen, and, as we approached, heard the sound
of a piano, accompanied by a male and a female voice,
singing "The Gypsy Countess." The curtains of the
parlor were drawn back to relieve the intense sultriness,
and the party was visible from the street. A strong, deep
voice sang the familiar part of the duet, " Come, fly
with me now." The sweet answer was returned in female
notes, " Can I trust to thy vow ? " Then the two warbled
the refrain together, and the performance finally con
cluded amid merry laughter and vigorous applause.

The performance was varied by the appearance of a
cavalryman with his banjo. He gave them some jingling
music, which sent everybody s blood bounding. Knowing
the host, we felt no hesitation about joining the party
of onlookers upon the portico, and there we beheld Fitz
Lee with his staff, making a jolly night of it as they
passed through Richmond on their way to Petersburg.
The house was the home of one of his favorite young
staff officers, whose sister was Fitz Lee s partner in the
duet. In appearance, General Lee was short, thickset,
already inclined to stoutness ; with a square head and
short neck upon broad shoulders, a merry eye, and a joy
ous voice of great power ; ruddy, full-bearded, and over
flowing with animal spirits. At last the banjo struck up
his favorite air :

" If you want to have a good time,
Jine the cavalry,
Jine the cavalry,
Jine the cavalry."

Fitz and staff joined in the refrain with mighty zest,
making the house ring with their hilarity.

This over, they announced their departure for Peters-


burg, and a mighty hubbub they made. The ladies of

Online LibraryJohn S. (John Sergeant) WiseThe end of an era → online text (page 24 of 35)