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John S. (John Sergeant) Wise.

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People without overcoats met one another upon the streets,
and talked over the prospects of peace, with their teeth
chattering, their thin garments buttoned over their chests,
their shoulders drawn up, their gloveless hands sunk deep



THE BEGINNING OF THE END 393

into their pockets for warmth. At meals, the dishes were
few and simple, procured at prices which sound fabulous.
Many a family existed upon little else than bacon and
cornfield peas. General Lee, who had a keen sense of
humor, and who, under less trying conditions, would have
allowed his wit to play freely, was once asked by some
idle chatterer who, in his opinion, was the best friend
of the Confederacy. Answering a fool according to his
folly, he replied, with a twinkle of his eye, " The only
unfailing friend the Confederacy ever had was cornfield
peas."

Many States have chosen flowers as their emblem.
Some, if not all, of the members of the Confederate sister
hood ought, in gratitude, to select the blossom of the corn
field pea. Time was when it was their " friend in need
and friend indeed." Nobody knows how many people in
the Confederacy it kept from actual starvation. I never
see a bag of cornfield peas without feeling like taking off
my hat and saying, " Here is to you and the rest of your
family. May you live long and prosper."

Even the banked and economically screened coals in
the grates showed the pinch of hard times. When gas
was produced at all, it was of the most inferior quality,
and at such exorbitant prices that most people were
reduced to the use of tallow candles.

Hospitable friends, with ample means, were ashamed
to invite visitors to share their humble fare. Long lines
of stores were closed : there was nothing to sell. Cigars
of ordinary quality were $10 each, and whiskey was $5 a
drink. I needed a uniform coat. After diligent bargain
ing, I engaged one at $2000, payable on delivery. My
pay was $120 a month, but I borrowed the money, ordered
the coat, and had to wait a month for it. A man who
brought articles through the Union lines, by making trips




394 THE END OF AN ERA

in a canoe across the Chesapeake Bay, procured a black
felt hat for me. I considered it a bargain when he deliv
ered it for $100. I bought some leather from a tan-vat
while in southwest Virginia, and the making of the boots
with my own leather cost me $150.

The town was filled with hospitals. Several of them
took their names from the people whose houses had been
devoted to these uses. Many ladies had volunteered as
matrons, and even as attendants. It was part of the daily
life of Richmond for women to save something from their
scant sustenance, and take or send it to the sick and
wounded. One devoted woman so distinguished and en
deared herself to everybody by her self-sacrifice that the
name of Sally Tompkins is known to the Confederates
as well as Florence Nightingale to the British, or Clara
Barton to Americans. She was commissioned a captain,
and the boys all call her, even now, " Captain Sally."
God will make her an officer of higher grade.

My father had long since rejoined his brigade. They
were now transferred to the right of our army at Hatcher s
Run. The privations and sufferings which officers and
men were undergoing were very fearful. They were hud
dled in snow and mud, without adequate supplies of food
or fuel or clothing. I went out to the camp, but had not
heart to remain long. The struggle was no longer a test
of valor in excitement : it had become one of inactive
endurance.

The Confederate authorities had adopted the policy of
enlisting negro troops. One sunny afternoon, I visited
the Capitol Square, and witnessed the parade and drill of
a battalion of Confederate darkeys. The sight was in
strange contrast with other parades I had witnessed there,
that, for example, of the New York Seventh in 1858,
or of the cadets, even, in the preceding May.



THE BEGINNING OF THE END 395

" Ah ! " I thought, " this is but the beginning of the
end."

Yet were there thousands many of them old, many of
them actually pale from insufficient nutriment, many of
them without money or employment to provide for pre
sent or future who still believed that the Confederacy
would achieve its independence.

The Confederate Congress passed resolutions of hope,
and sent orators to the trenches and camps to tell the sol
diers that "the darkest hour was just before day." One
of these blatant fellows I recall particularly. He had
been a fire-eater, a nullifier, a secessionist, a blood-and-
thunder orator, foremost in urging that we " fight for our
rights in the Territories." He was a young man, an able-
bodied man, and a man of decided ability. But never for
one moment was his precious carcass exposed to danger.
There was something inexpressibly repulsive to me, and
irritating beyond expression, when I saw men like this,
from their safe places, in a lull in hostilities, ride down to
the Confederate lines during that awful winter, and coun
sel our poor soldiers to fight on. Even if it was right to
fight on, they had no right to advise it. Old Jubal Early
had opposed the war until it actually came upon him, but
when it was inevitable, he fought. Things were turning
out just as he had predicted they would. When these
people, whose extravagant oratory had done so much to
bring on the fight, and who had then contributed nothing
of personal service to sustain it, came among his starving
men to urge them to sacrifices which they themselves had
never made, he treated them with undisguised scorn. He
refused to attend their meeting. From the door of his
hut he blistered them with his biting satire :

" Well well - - ! " he shouted ; " still sicking

them on, are ye ? " " Before you leave, tell them what



396 THE END OF AN ERA

you think of your rights in the Territories now." " One
day out here with a musket would help the cause more
than all your talk." " Don t talk the men to death. You
can t talk the Yankees to death. Fighting is the only
thing that talks now."

"Old Jubal" had his faults, but skulking in bomb-
proofs was not one of them. The men had implicit faith
in his unflinching courage. He punctured and embalmed
the lip-service of these "last ditchers," as he called them ;
and his soldiers, taking the cue from him, hooted and de
rided them, and long resented their unwelcome intrusion.

Yet have I lived to see fellows of that very class and
coterie successfully pose as surviving representatives of
the Confederate cause, and avail themselves of the false
assumption to belittle the loyalty and service of real Con
federate soldiers, because, forsooth, those true and tried
men, long after the Confederate cause was dead and
buried, dared to differ from them on current policies.

Let us turn to the more interesting description of social
conditions at Richmond during the last days of the Con
federacy.

It is a merciful provision of Providence which supplies
diversion to mankind in the most desperate of situations.
In the beleaguered capital, even amid the darkest hours
of our fortunes, there were hearts throbbing with old emo
tions which banish thoughts of grief ; and places where
people met, clothed in the impenetrable armor of youth
and joy, to dance and laugh adversity to scorn. War,
pestilence, and famine are impotent to slay, infect, or
starve the little naked archer.

Richmond was rilled with young girls betrothed to
young officers in the trenches about that city and Peters
burg. It was not susprising, for never did a city of its
population contain more beautiful and brilliant women
than did Richmond at that time.



THE BEGINNING OF THE END 397

The wedding bells chimed merrily in the wintry air for
the coming nuptials of Colonel William B. Tabb, 59th
Virginia Infantry, Wise s Brigade, and Miss Emily Ruth
erford.

The Tabbs were among the oldest people of Tidewater,
and the Rutherfords were of the best of Richmond s
earliest business men. Colonel Tabb was a tall, brown-
eyed, winsome youth of twenty-eight, whose gallantry on
many a field gave him more than ordinary title to his
stars, and whose modesty and gentleness had brought
him troops of friends.

Emily Rutherford, with her peach-bloom cheeks and
great, wondering, fawn-like eyes, was " queen of the rose
bud garden of girls " of her own circle ; and Mr. and
Mrs. Rutherford presided over a home proverbial for its
hospitality, even at a time when the hunger and thirst
of Richmond society was abnormal.

Thus, from every point of view, whether of pride in
Tabb, or love for Emily, or the hungry hopes and trust of
society in the gastronomic abilities of the old folks, all
things conspired to make the approaching wedding the
social event of the season.

The scene at the church was far more brilliant than
one would fancy it could be after the descriptions given.
Few girls with any social pretensions in Richmond had
failed to wheedle or cajole some admiring blockade-run
ning magnate into fetching them a silk or ribbon or
feather from the outside world for this occasion. These
blockade-runners were the only nabobs in the place : carry
ing their fortunes, their liberty, and sometimes their
lives in their hands, they alone seemed possessors of the
secret wherewith, even amidst poverty and want, to con
jure up wealth and luxury. They still wore broadcloth
and fine linen, drank French brandy, and smoked black



398 THE END OF AN ERA

cigars. To them, and them alone, could bride and brides
maids, matron and maid, look for the brave toggery so
essential upon occasions like this ; and the sea-dogs had
not failed their fair dependents.

To me, the Tabb-Rutherford nuptials was an event of
a lifetime ; it had been years since I had seen such a
gorgeous function. Nothing like it had been possible in
Presbyterian Lexington, or the Petersburg front, or in
the western Virginia mountains. Not only was it to
seal the happiness of two dear friends, not only were the
brave and young to be there, but it was to be a notable
assembling of the great ! What was I to wear ?

I had a pair of " captured " trousers, originally destined
for a private in the Union army, now converted into a
Confederate officer s best attire. Pretty fair trousers they
were, worn with a long-tailed coat, but unfit for use with
a jacket. My boots, which cost me so much in the mak
ing, were finished, but of fair leather ; that was a small
matter: lamp-black and oil were still plentiful, and, after
half an hour of hard work, they shone black and re
splendent. But my 12000 coat : it was only in embryo.
There was no hope of its being finished in time. What
was to be done ? Coats were coats in those days, and not
to be found hanging on every bush. Vainly, here and
there, I sought for the wedding garment. Every one
whose coat might fit me was as intent as myself upon
attending that entertainment.

We were talking it over at the mess, when, to my great
relief, Barksdale Warwick, one of my father s aids,
took me aside and whispered to me that he would be on
duty the day of the wedding, and, if I could use it, I
might wear his new coat. Now " Barkey " was a first
lieutenant in the " Canaries," as we called the staff, while
I was only a subaltern in the " Blues," as they dubbed






THE BEGINNING OF THE END 399

the infantry : arrayed in his coat with buff trimmings,
with infantry stripes on my trousers, my attire would
indeed be somewhat incongruous. President Davis, or
the Secretary of War, if there, might, on close scrutinj 7 -,
wonder what branch of service I represented. But these
were minor considerations, for I was going to that ball,
and this was my last chance.

The real question was not one of style, but one of fit.
Ay, there was the rub! for Barksdale Warwick was
fully six feet high, and thin as a riding-whip, while I was
short, and plump as a partridge. But I gratefully ac
cepted a note to his mother, and, on the day of the wed
ding, marched proudly to my lodgings with the coveted
article under my arm.

It was not without grave misgivings that I stepped
forth attired for the wedding. The length of Barks-
dale s waist was such that the bottom buttons of that
coat somewhat constrained the movement of my hips ;
the coat-tails nearly reached my ankles ; as for the
sleeves, I was fortunate to get occasional glances at my
finger-tips. The whole effect was to give me the appear
ance of a giant in body, a dwarf in legs, and an unfortu
nate who had lost both hands. As I came downstairs,
drawing on a pair of new white thread-gloves, a married
sister nearly paralyzed me by a well-intended compliment
upon my "nice new overcoat," and my witty wag of a
sister, whose escort I was, shrieked with merriment at my
remarkable attire.

But what cared I ? I would have gone in a meal-sack.
The larger the coat, the better ; it gave more commodious
opportunity to fill it with Mr. Rutherford s good cheer.
At church, the judicious handling of a military cape
veiled somewhat this extraordinary outfit ; but when the
house was reached, no subterfuges longer availed. We



400 THE END OF AN ERA

stood revealed and undisguised, such as we were. If my
appearance was extraordinary, in the vernacular of to
day, " there were others." The men had misfits of many
makes ; some even displayed patches. As for the cos
tumes of the ladies, they were wonderful to behold.
They seemed to have ransacked every old trunk in the
garrets of Richmond, and some had actually utilized the
lace and damask window-curtains of peace times. But a
jollier and happier seeming throng was never assembled.

Tent-flies inclosed the large rear veranda, where a mili
tary band was stationed ; holly and all kinds of evergreen
had been used for decoration. The bride and groom re
ceived under an immense wedding bell of evergreens, a
token of love for their colonel, made with their own
hands, from the bushes growing about them, by the men
of Tabb s regiment. Who were there ? Everybody that
was anybody.

There was Mr. President Davis : he was assuredly a
very clean-looking man ; his manners were those of a dig
nified, gracious gentleman accustomed to good society.
He claimed his tribute kiss from the bride, and well he
might, for seldom had he culled one more sweet or pure.
From the blushing girl he turned with a gracious compli
ment to her husband : " For a bribe like that, colonel,
you may demand a week s extension of your leave."
Tabb, with his hazel eyes, his red-brown hair and beard,
and two brilliant hectic spots glowing upon his cheeks,
towered above him, smiling, bowing, and supremely
happy. Mr. Davis looked thin and careworn. Natu
rally refined in his appearance, his hair and beard were
bleaching rapidly ; and his bloodless cheeks land slender
nose, with its clear-cut, flat nostril, gave him almost the
appearance of emaciation. Yet his eye was bright, his
smile was winning, and manner most attractive. When






THE BEGINNING OF THE END 401

he chose to be deferential and kindly, no man could excel
him. When strongly moved, few men of his day sur
passed him in eloquence. On occasion, he could touch
the popular heart with a master hand. On his arm was
Mrs. Davis, his very opposite in physique, looking as if,
to use an old expression, " the gray mare was the better
horse." Physically, she was large and looked well fed.
Among us " irreverents," it was believed that Mrs. Davis
possessed great influence over her husband, even to the
point that she could secure promotion for us, if she liked.
She was intensely loyal to him, took no pains to conceal
her pride in him, and was, perhaps, a trifle quick to
show resentment towards those not as enthusiastic as she
thought they should be in their estimate of his abilities.
She had, among those who knew her best, warm, enthusi
astic friends.

Close upon these came young Burton Harrison, the
President s private secretary, looking like a fashion-plate
in his perfect outfit. Harrison was popular, and every
body had some cordial inquiry as to how he maintained
such an immaculate wardrobe, when all the world besides
was in rags. Speaking a gracious word here and there
as he passed on, he soon joined willowy Connie Gary for
a. waltz.

When Breckinridge, Secretary of War, strode up, he
brought the perfume of Kentucky Bourbon with him. As
he and Tabb stood side by side, one thought of the wide-
spreading forest oak topping up beside the slender pine.
There was the frankness of the soldier, the breadth of
the statesman, the heartiness and courtesy to woman, of
the Southern man of the world, in his every look and
word.

The oleaginous Benjamin, Secretary of State, next
glided in, his keg-like form and over-deferential manner



402 THE END OF AN ERA

suggestive of a prosperous shopkeeper. But his eye
redeemed him, and his speech was elegantly polished,
even if his nose was hooked and his thick lips shone red
amidst the curly black of his Semitic beard. Tabb,
looking down upon him, suggested a high-bred grey
hound condescending towards a very clever pug.

Then bluff old Secretary Mallory of the Navy came,
with no studied speech, but manly, frank, and kind, one
of the most popular members of the Confederate Cabinet.
After him, Postmaster-General Regan, of Texas, a large,
plain-looking citizen, of more than ordinary common
sense, but ill at ease in gatherings like this, and looking
as if he might have left his carry-log and yoke of oxen at
the door.

And so it went. There was Olivero Andrews, the most
insinuating beau of the capital ; and Cooper de Leon, the
poet, wit, and wag ; and John M. Daniel, the vitriolic
editor of the " Examiner," whose mission seemed to be
to torture the administration with the criticism of his
scathing pen ; and Willie Myers, soldier, dandy, dilet
tante artist, and exquisite ; and the pompous fellow, blaz
ing with gilt, and bearded like a pard, derisively called
" the Count, who was best known for his constant ab
sence from the front without leave when his command was
engaged ; and Baron Heros von Boerck, a giant German,
who had come to fight as a volunteer upon Jeb Stuart s
staff. O Vanity Fair of the dead Confederacy! How
your actors troop before me once again !

" Who is the red-headed fellow with the voice like a
foghorn?" I asked of a companion, as I pointed to a
young subaltern standing in a group of men and women,
who were convulsed at some extravagant story he was
telling.

"Tom Ochiltree, of course," said she. "He is the



THE BEGINNING OF THE END 403

young Texan who distinguished himself at the battle of
Valverde, and afterwards as volunteer aid to Longstreet
in the seven days fighting. He is the most unique char
acter in Richmond, and is counted one of the bravest
fellows and truest friends, and at the same time one of
the drollest raconteurs, in all the world." A fresh peal
of merriment from the throng about him almost drowned
her last words.

" And who is the classic-looking young fellow near him,
with the scars upon his face ? " I asked.

" That is Clarence Prentice," she said ; " the oddest
fish in all the Confederacy. The scars you see are sou
venirs of Heidelberg, not wounds received in battle,
although he has been in many fights. He looks like a
poet or musician, but that man is everything : he plays
divinely, speaks many tongues, is an exquisite dancer,
sings like an angel, gets drunk, kills men, gambles, and
is altogether startling. According to the mood in which
you find him, he is a gentleman or ruffian, athlete, all-
round sportsman, exquisite, desperado, or eccentric."

" And who are the ladies of the coterie ? "

" Oh," she said, " that is what we call the White
House set. The two large girls in white are the Misses
Howell, sisters of Mrs. Davis. The handsome blonde is
the daughter of Senator Wigfall, of Texas ; the striking
girl in pink is Miss Campbell, daughter of the Confed
erate Chief Justice, Judge Campbell, of New Orleans."

" And who is this Burmese elephant ? " I asked, as men
and women fell back before a great waddling mass of obe
sity, who, in gray clothes and not over-neat linen, came
elbowing his way into the room, puffing like a porpoise.

" That," said she, " is General Humphrey Marshall, of
Kentucky. They say he was a brave general, and is a
shrewd and brilliant politician ; in fact, almost a statesman.



404 THE END OF AN ERA

He is at present in the Confederate Congress. His chief
prominence now is as the most inveterate gambler and
bon-vivant in Richmond. He is the man who stakes
thousands on the turn of a card, and, while waiting,
lights his |10 cigars with $5 Confederate bills."

In this grand rush of humanity there was more than
life enough, and enough that was startling ; but how in
contrast with the gentle, elevating refinement of bygone
days ! The grosser breath of war had penetrated even to
the innermost circle of society, and given it a heat and
noise and indiscriminateness which, to speak mildly, was
new, and by no means an improvement upon old manners
and old customs.

As I saw them, it seemed to me that the men intrusted
with the civic administration of the Confederate govern
ment were not of as fine clay as her immortal soldiers,
nor was it, I believe, a mere boyish fancy. Time has
deepened the impression.

The crush was becoming less dense. The older folk
remained but a little while. The numbers of the guests
necessitated providing refreshments for the most distin
guished and the elderly people first, and for the young
folk a little later.

The President and his cabinet had disappeared. The
stars of the generals went one by one into eclipse behind
the doors of the banquet-halls. Even colonels were rare.
Majors, captains, and lieutenants were of the grades
whence drafts were made for dancers, and here and
there might even be seen a saucy private ; for, in our
army, many a private soldier was socially the peer of any
body.

A band of musicians with stringed instruments filed
into the drawing-rooms when they were sufficiently cleared
of the crowd to admit of dancing. Taking their position



THE BEGINNING OF THE END 405

in a corner, the tuning and preliminary flourishes began,
and people sought their partners for the cotillion.

Until now, I had felt abashed by the presence of distin
guished people and superior officers ; but when it came
to dancing, I considered that I was in my proper element.
Recollections of cadet triumphs were still fresh. So forth
I sallied for a partner. Meanwhile, a dreamy waltz
floated through the rooms, and the " White House set "
led off. Most striking among them was that Porthos
Von Boerck dancing with one of the lovely Carys. But
more striking still were the remarkable sounds which he
emitted when the dance was finished. Von Boerck, while
riding with Stuart, had been shot through the windpipe.
The injury caused him, when breathing hard, to utter a
sound like that made by a "roaring horse." After the vio
lent exercise of waltzing, in defiance of instructions from
his surgeon, the great rosy fellow stood leaning against a
pillar, fanning his flushed face, and emitting this remark
able noise. His fair companion was at first alarmed.
When assured that it was not dangerous, and would cease
in a few moments, her sense of the ludicrous overcame
both her fear and her sympathy, and she called to her
companions to " come and hear Von Boerck whistle." Poor
Von Boerck ! That most amiable and brave fellow a
universal favorite for both qualities among the girls
was nearly overcome by this ridiculous exposure. As the
laughing maidens congregated about him, he grew red,
and protested, in his awkward German way : " Oh-h !
Whew-w! I beg you whew-w! spare me whew-w!"
But they did not spare him, and clapped their little
hands with merriment. At last, roaring, and enjoying his
own discomfiture as much as anybody, he burst through
their ranks, and fled to the cool veranda to recover his
composure and allow his whistle to subside.



406 THE END OF AN ERA

My efforts to secure a partner were futile in several
directions. Nearly all the girls had escorts. Several
looked askance and declined, in a way which made me
doubt whether my costume was altogether a success. Just
as I was growing despondent, our gracious hostess ap
proached and said, " Come with me. I have a charming
partner for you." Then, threading our way to a corner, I
was presented. Charming the young lady was, beyond
question ; and desirable, no doubt, in many ways ; but
candor compels the admission that she was older than
myself, and not beautiful. And her dress? Oh, that
costume ! Shall I ever forget it ?



Online LibraryJohn S. (John Sergeant) WiseThe end of an era → online text (page 29 of 35)