John S. (John Sergeant) Wise.

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place, and gone to Greensboro, North Carolina. From
the paroled men we met, we ascertained that our father
was safe. We resolved to join Johnston s army. After
leaving Danville, two days ride brought us to Greens
boro, and there we found Johnston s forces. We reported
to Major-General Carter Stevenson, commanding a divi
sion of infantry. General Stevenson was a Virginian,
one of the few in that army. A cousin of ours was on
his staff. The army was bivouacked in and about the
town of Greensboro, awaiting the result of negotiations
for its surrender. Men and officers alike understood this,
and there was a general relaxation of discipline.

We were among the first to arrive from Lee s army.
General Stevenson gave us a cordial welcome. We told
him we had not been captured, and had come to serve


under him. He asked us what we wished to do. We re
plied that we were ready to serve in any capacity in which
we could be useful ; I added facetiously that I was not
much of a lieutenant anyhow, and none too good for a
private. On our way, we had seriously discussed the for
mation of a command composed of officers of Lee s army
who had escaped from the surrender. Inviting us to
make his headquarters our home until something definite
was concluded, General Stevenson said, with a smile, that
he feared we had jumped out of the frying-pan into the
fire, and that Sherman and Johnston were already confer
ring about a cessation of hostilities. I must describe one
of the conferences as General Johnston himself narrated
it many years afterward.

One cold winter night about 1880, Captain Edwin
Harvie, of General Johnston s staff, invited me to join
him in a call upon the general, who was then living in
Richmond. Harvie was one of his pets, and we were
promptly admitted to his presence. He sat in an arm
chair in his library, dressed in a flannel wrapper, and was
suffering from an influenza. By his side, upon a low
stool, stood a tray with whiskey, glasses, spoons, sugar,
lemon, spice, and eggs. At the grate a footman held a
brass teakettle of boiling water. Mrs. Johnston was pre
paring hot Tom-and-Jerry for the old gentleman, and he
took it from time to time with no sign of objection or
resistance. It was snowing outside, and the scene within
was very cosy. As I had seen him in public, General
Johnston was a stiff, uncommunicative man, punctilious
and peppery, as little fellows like him are apt to be. He
reminded me of a cock sparrow, full of self-consciousness,
and rather enjoying a peck at his neighbor.

That night he was as warm, comfortable, and commu
nicative as the kettle singing on the hob. He had been


lonesome, and he greatly enjoyed both the Tom-and-
Jerry and the visitors. Harvie knew how to draw him
out on reminiscences, and we spent a most delightful
evening. Among other things, he told us an episode of
the surrender, under promise that we should not publish
it until after his death.

Johnston had known Sherman well in the United States
army. Their first interview near Greensboro resulted in
an engagement to meet for further discussion the follow
ing day. As they were parting, Johnston remarked : " By
the way, Gumps, Breckinridge, our Secretary of War, is
with me. He is a very able fellow, and a better lawyer
than any of us. If there is no objection, I will fetch him
along to-morrow."

Bristling up, General Sherman exclaimed, " Secretary
of War ! No, no ; we don t recognize any civil govern
ment among you fellows, Joe. No, I don t want any
Secretary of War."

" Well," said General Johnston, " he is also a major-
general in the Confederate army. Is there any objection
to his presence in the capacity of major-general ? "

" Oh ! " quoth Sherman, in his characteristic way,
" major-general ! Well, any major-general you may bring,
I shall be glad to meet. But recollect, Johnston, no Sec
retary of War. Do you understand ? "

The next day, General Johnston, accompanied by
Major-General Breckinridge and others, was at the ren
dezvous before Sherman.

" You know how fond of his liquor Breckinridge was ? "
added General Johnston, as he went on with his story.
" Well, nearly everything to drink had been absorbed.
For several days, Breckinridge had found it difficult, if
not impossible, to procure liquor. He showed the effect
of his enforced abstinence. He was rather dull and


heavy that morning. Somebody in Danville had given
him a plug of very fine chewing tobacco, and he chewed
vigorously while we were awaiting Sherman s coming.
After a while, the latter arrived. He bustled in with a
pair of saddlebags over his arm, and apologized for being
late. He placed the saddlebags carefully upon a chair.
Introductions followed, and for a while General Sherman
made himself exceedingly agreeable. Finally, some one
suggested that we had better take up the matter in hand.

" 4 Yes, said Sherman ; but, gentlemen, it occurred
to me that perhaps you were not overstocked with liquor,
and I procured some medical stores on my way over.
Will you join me before we begin work ? :

General Johnston said he watched the expression of
Breckinridge at this announcement, and it was beatific.
Tossing his quid into the fire, he rinsed his mouth, and
when the bottle and the glass were passed to him, he
poured out a tremendous drink, which he swallowed with
great satisfaction. With an air of content, he stroked his
mustache and took a fresh chew of tobacco.

Then they settled down to business, and Breckinridge
never shone more brilliantly than he did in the discus
sions which followed. He seemed to have at his tongue s
end every rule and maxim of international and constitu
tional law, and of the laws of war, international wars,
civil wars, and wars of rebellion. In fact, he was so re
sourceful, cogent, persuasive, learned, that, at one stage
of the proceedings, General Sherman, when confronted
by the authority, but not convinced by the eloquence
or learning of Breckinridge, pushed back his chair and
exclaimed : " See here, gentlemen, who is doing this sur
rendering anyhow? If this thing goes on, you ll have
me sending a letter of apology to Jeff Davis."

Afterward, when they were Hearing the close of the


conference, Sherman sat for some time absorbed in deep
thought. Then he arose, went to the saddlebags, and
fumbled for the bottle. Breckinridge saw the movement.
Again he took his quid from his mouth and tossed it into
the fireplace. His eye brightened, and he gave every
evidence of intense interest in what Sherman seemed
about to do.

The latter, preoccupied, perhaps unconscious of his
action, poured out some liquor, shoved the bottle back
into the saddle-pocket, walked to the window, and stood
there, looking out abstractedly, while he sipped his grog.

From pleasant hope and expectation the expression on
Breckinridge s face changed successively to uncertainty,
disgust, and deep depression. At last his hand sought
the plug of tobacco, and, with an injured, sorrowful look,
he cut off another chew. Upon this he ruminated during
the remainder of the interview, taking little part in what
was said.

After silent reflections at the window, General Sher
man bustled back, gathered up his papers, and said:
" These terms are too generous, but I must hurry away
before you make me sign a capitulation. I will submit
them to the authorities at Washington, and let you hear
how they are received." With that he bade the assem
bled officers adieu, took his saddlebags upon his arm, and
went off as he had come.

General Johnston took occasion, as they left the house
and were drawing on their gloves, to ask General Breck
inridge how he had been impressed by Sherman.

" Sherman is a bright man, and a man of great force, *
replied Breckinridge, speaking with deliberation, " but,"
raising his voice and with a look of great intensity, " Gen
eral Johnston, General Sherman is a hog. Yes, sir, a
hog. Did you see him take that drink by himself ? "


General Johnston tried to assure General Breckinridge
that General Sherman was a royal good fellow, but the
most absent-minded man in the world. He told him that
the failure to offer him a drink was the highest compli
ment that could have been paid to the masterly arguments
with which he had pressed the Union commander to that
state of abstraction.

"Ah!" protested the big Kentuckian, half sighing,
half grieving, " no Kentucky gentleman would ever have
taken away that bottle. He knew we needed it, and
needed it badly."

The story was well told, and I did not make it public
until after General Johnston s death. On one occasion,
being intimate with General Sherman, I repeated it to
him. Laughing heartily, he said: "I don t remember
it. But if Joe Johnston told it, it s so. Those fellows
hustled me so that day, I was sorry for the drink I did
give them," and with that sally he broke out into fresh

While these scenes were being enacted, Johnston s army
lay about Greensboro, and I saw a great deal of the men
and the officers. I will not attempt a comparison between
its personnel and that of Lee s army. I was a prejudiced
observer, and such comparisons can produce no good
results. But I am free to say, from what I saw, then and
thereafter, of Sherman s army, that I believe it was a
better army than that of General Grant. If Lee s army
and Sherman s had come together when they were at their
best, the world would have witnessed some very memo
rable fighting. The spirit of General Johnston s men was
much finer than, under the circumstances, anybody would
have expected. They were defiant, and more than ready
to try conclusions with Sherman in a pitched battle.
Many expressed disgust and indignation when the sur-


render of the army was announced. An epidemic of
drunkenness, gambling, and fighting prevailed while we
were waiting for our final orders. Whatever difficulty
General Breckinridge may have experienced in procuring
liquor, the soldiers seemed to have an abundance of color
less corn-whiskey and applejack, and the roadsides were
lined with " chuck-a-luck " games. The amount of Con
federate money displayed was marvelous. Men had it
by the haversackful, and bet it recklessly upon anything.
The ill-temper begotten by drinking and gambling mani
fested itself almost hourly in free fights.

During this period of waiting came the news of the
assassination of Mr. Lincoln. Perhaps I ought to chroni
cle that the announcement was received with demonstra
tions of sorrow. If I did, I should be lying for senti
ment s sake. Among the higher officers and the most
intelligent and conservative men, the assassination caused
a shudder of horror at the heinousness of the act, and at
the thought of its possible consequences ; but among the
thoughtless, the desperate, and the ignorant, it was hailed
as a sort of retributive justice. In maturer years I have
been ashamed of what I felt and said when I heard of
that awful calamity. However, men ought to be judged
for their feelings and their speech by the circumstances
of their surroundings. For four years we had been fight
ing. In that struggle, all we loved had been lost. Lin
coln incarnated to us the idea of oppression and conquest.
We had seen his face over the coffins of our brothers and
relatives and friends, in the flames of Richmond, in the
disaster at Appomattox. In blood and flame and torture
the temples of our lives were tumbling about our heads.
We were desperate and vindictive, and whosoever denies
it forgets or is false. We greeted his death in a spirit of
reckless hate, and hailed it as bringing agony and bitter-


ness to those who were the cause of our own agony and
bitterness. To us, Lincoln was an inhuman monster,
Grant a butcher, and Sherman a fiend.

Time taught us that Lincoln was a man of marvelous
humanity, Appomattox and what followed revealed Grant
in his matchless magnanimity, and the bitterness toward
Sherman was softened in subsequent years. But, with our
feelings then, if the news had come that all three of these
had been engulfed in a common disaster with ourselves,
we should have felt satisfaction in the fact, and should
not have questioned too closely how it had been brought
about. We were poor, starved, conquered, despairing ;
and to expect men to have no malice and no vindictive-
ness at such a time is to look for angels in human form.
Thank God, such feelings do not last long, at least in
their fiercest intensity.

The army moved westward to a place named Jimtown,
since dignified as Jamestown. There we were all paroled.
We received one dollar and fifteen cents each. Of this,
one dollar was in Mexican coin. I cut my initials upon
my dollar, but it was stolen from my pocket the next day.
We were ready to disperse to our homes. Our headquar
ters were in a tent.

That night we had our last army fright. By some
means, a rumor had become prevalent that certain officers
had distributed among themselves bolts of valuable cloth
far beyond their own needs, leaving the soldiers ragged.
The men formed bands, declaring they would ransack the
officers wagons and have this cloth. A friendly fellow
brought us the news that one of these parties was ap
proaching to search General Stevenson s headquarters
wagon. Major Reeve, of the staff, indignant at such an
accusation, but more indignant at the proposed insult to
his commanding officer, swore he would die rather than


submit to such ignominy. He called upon us to defend
our manhood. Of course we were ready. Armed only
with our swords and revolvers, we were deployed by him
behind trees. It was moonlight. We could see the raid
ers coming through the woods. When within thirty yards,
they halted. Major Reeve, who was as gallant as he was
impetuous, challenged, and asked what they wanted. A
leader replied. " Are you men soldiers of Stevenson s
division ? " inquired Reeve. On learning that they were,
he proceeded to deliver an address which, for eloquence,
pathos, and defiance, was as fine as anything I ever

He reproached them for thinking for an instant that
such a base rumor could be true. He reminded them of
the days when he had led them, and they were touched
by his references to their common struggles and common
sufferings. He asked them what General Stevenson or
any of his staff had ever done to deserve this distrust or
justify this degrading search. Finally, he told them that if
they still persisted, but one course was left to us, and that
was to die at the hands of our own men rather than sub
mit tamely to such dishonor. We who were deployed
behind the trees felt that we were in a ticklish place.
Reeve was exalted by his own oratory. We were trying
to count the number of our assailants. For a moment
after he finished speaking there was a dead silence, a very
awkward silence. Then a voice shouted, " Three cheers
for Major Reeve ! " They were given with a hearty good
will, followed by cheers for everybody. The marauders
broke, crowded around Reeve, and hugged and wept over
him, and we sneaked back to the tent, much relieved that
this particular phase of the war was over.

The next day, the Army of the Tennessee dissolved. To
every point of the compass its officers and men dispersed.


Our course was directed to Danville. We did not en
counter any Union forces until we approached that place.
Then we saw mounted Union pickets outlined against the
sky, at the top of the hill. They looked just as we had
often seen them before. It was hard to realize that they
would not fire upon us, and gallop away to give the alarm.
It was equally hard to realize that we soon should pass
them and be within the Union lines. In we went, giving
and receiving salutes. For the first time, we were in the
midst of a body of Union soldiers. What we felt then is
not important.

A week later, having been to Halifax to return to her
owner the finest mare I ever bestrode, I boarded a train
for Richmond, the brass buttons on my uniform covered
with black, a fit badge of mourning for the dead Confed
eracy. The cars were crowded with Union soldiers and
negroes flocking to the towns. The bearing of the Union
officers and soldiers toward Confederates was, with few
exceptions, extremely civil and conciliatory. One fellow
was so kind that, after he had offered me money, which I
refused, he slipped it into my pocket with a card saying,
" This is not a gift, but a loan, and when you are able
you can return it to me." I did subsequently return it,
but never forgot his delicate attention.

The bridges across the James at Richmond had all been
destroyed. Our train stopped at Manchester, opposite
Richmond. Thence we were compelled to proceed to the
city by way of a pontoon bridge thrown across the river
at the lower end of Mayo s Island. At the Manchester
terminus, we found a number of improvised vehicles,
wagons, ambulances, etc., with improvised drivers, too,
seeking passengers to carry over the bridge. These driv
ers were in many instances my old army comrades. One
of them was Colonel George , a former schoolmate,


not five years older than myself, a man of the highest so
cial standing, a young soldier of distinguished gallantry,
who a month before had commanded one of the best resri-


ments in Lee s army. It was pathetic, the sight of those
army boys, with their war-horses converted into teams,
trying to earn an honest penny to feed the folks at home.
I saw George stand at the rear of the ambulance that
he drove, open the door, collect the fares from the sleek
Union commissaries and quartermasters who patronized
him, mount his box, and drive away as humbly as if that
business had been, and was to be, his lifelong occupation.

It was fortunate for our boys that the negroes, who
until now had done this class of work, were so elated by
their freedom that they had performed no sort of labor
since the evacuation. They had thronged the city, but
not for work. The weather was warm, and they were
living in all kinds of makeshift habitations, ofttimes in
the ruins of burned buildings, procuring food from the
Freedmen s Bureau, and spending their time in the Capi
tol Square, where the older ones shouted and sang for
hours, and the children played at games.

I was too poor to indulge in the luxury of a ride, and
young and strong enough to walk to town. Slinging our
knapsacks, a party of us walked across the pontoon, lift
ing our eyes from time to time to the grinning ruins before
us. It was past noon ; the day was warm, and the sun
was bright. It revealed, without concealing anything
from us, the complete destruction of the business portion
of the town. Through these ruins we wended our way.

The hand of reconstruction was already stretched forth.
Men were engaged in pulling down walls and cleaning
bricks. Already mortar beds had been built in the
streets, puddlers were at work, and, where work had pro
gressed far enough, foundations were being laid anew.


The streets were already burdened with lumber for joists
and woodwork, and every evidence was given of a rebuild
ing of the town. Nearly all the laborers were white men.
Many of them I knew well, men of as good social posi
tion as my own ; soldiers come home and resolved not to
be idle, but to work for an honest living in any way in
which they could make it. Sitting in the sun with their
trowels, jabbing away in awkward fashion at their new
and unaccustomed tasks, covered with dust and plaster,
they were the same bright, cheerful fellows who had
learned to labor in that state of life to which it had
pleased God to call them, just as they had been willing
followers, in sunshine and in storm, of their beloved Lee.
At night, with their day s wages in their pockets, they
would go home, change their clothing, take a bath, and
associate with their families, not at all ashamed of their
labors, but making a joke of their newly discovered
method of earning a sustenance. With all the hardship
of such unaccustomed work, it was the best and most
comfortable and least dangerous employment that they
had been engaged in for years. Richmond rose from her
ashes, and soon became, in great part by their efforts, a
more beautiful city than ever before.

Passing through the business portion of the town, we
reached the residential section, which was still intact.
The trees were in full leaf. They cast their deep shadows
everywhere, and a Sabbath stillness pervaded the streets,
strangely in contrast with the air of busy life always pre
sented when Richmond was the crowded and beleaguered
capital. Few men and no women were upon the streets.
Business had not been resumed, and the presence of
Union soldiers and great numbers of negroes made women
cautious about venturing forth unattended.

I had no home. The nearest approach to one was that


of my brother-in-law, Dr. Garnett. There my mother
and an unmarried sister were, and thither I repaired.
My father, as I learned, had not returned to Richmond.
Eliza, our faithful servant, whose kinspeople resided in
Philadelphia, had made a short visit to that place, and
among other things had brought back civilian clothes for
me. They had been bought by Philadelphia relatives,
who knew me only as an eighteen-year-old boy, and the
clothes were of the style worn by Philadelphia cousins of
my own age. In my room I found a civilian s attire laid
out for me, and I proceeded to divest myself of my uni
form. For the first time in two years and eight months,
I appeared in citizen s dress. The sensation was peculiar.
The lightness and softness of the cloth was delightful, but
the sack coat and the straw hat made me feel bobtailed
and bareheaded ; and when I looked in the glass, instead
of confronting a striking young officer, I beheld a mere
insignificant chit of an eighteen-year-old boy. Nothing
brought home to me more vividly the fact that the stun
ning events of the last month had ended the career on
which I had started, and that I had received a great set
back in manhood. This feeling was emphasized when
some one startled me by asking where I was going to

The house had a broad veranda. That evening we sat
upon it, after tea, quiet and sad, but enjoying the refresh
ing air and sense of peace. On the opposite side of the
street lived a family consisting of a mother and several
handsome daughters. They had been such ardent Con
federates that they had been sent out of Alexandria into
the Confederate lines by the Union commander. That
they were still loyal Confederates we never had reason to
doubt until we saw a party of young Union officers ride
up, followed by their orderlies. We felt sure they had


come to arrest the occupants of that house. Imagine our
surprise, therefore, when, in a few moments, we saw the
lights go up in the drawing-rooms, and discovered that
this was a social call. One of the girls was soon banging
away on the piano and singing to her admirers. The
voices of hilarity, the sounds of mirth and music, horrified
us. We looked upon the conduct of those girls, in mak
ing merry, singing, playing, and receiving the attentions
of Union officers, as grossly indelicate, heartless to our
dead and to us, and treason to their Confederate comrades.
It was years before they regained social recognition in the
community. Their faithlessness to the lost cause chilled
my heart, and was a fresh reminder that the cause was

That night I tossed upon my bed, reflecting on the
past, contemplating the present, speculating as to the
future. The next morning I arose, and before breakfast
I wrote my will, as follows :

I, J. Reb., being of unsound mind and bitter memory,
and aware that I am dead, do make, publish, and declare
the following to be my political last will and testament.

1. I give, devise, and bequeath all my slaves to Harriet
Beecher Stowe.

2. My rights in the territories I direct shall be assigned
and set over, together with the bricabrac known as State

" O

Sovereignty, to the Hon. J R T , to play

with for the remainder of his life, and remainder to his
son after his death.

3. I direct that all my shares in the venture of seces
sion shall be canceled, provided I am released from my
unpaid subscription to the stock of said enterprise.

4. My interest in the civil government of the Confed
eracy I bequeath to any freak museum that may here
after be established.


5. My sword, my veneration for General Robert E.

Online LibraryJohn S. (John Sergeant) WiseThe end of an era → online text (page 33 of 35)