John S. (John Sergeant) Wise.

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in a session to buy one nigger, much less a whole fam-
bly." And the old beast looked up over his spectacles as


he counted his money, and actually chuckled, as if he ex
pected a round of applause for his clever business ability.

A deep groan, unaccompanied by any word of com
plaint, came from the dark corner where Israel sat.
Martha Ann stepped down from the platform, walked to
where he was, the tears streaming down her cheeks, and
there, hugging her children and rocking herself back and
forth, she sobbed as if her heart was breaking.

My companion and I looked at each other in disgust,
but neither spoke a word. I was ready to burst into
tears. The old creature who had bought the woman
lugged out his hoarded money in sundry packages of coin
and paper, and, as he counted it, said, " Martha Ann,
cheer up ; you 11 find me a good marster, and I 11 get you
a new husband." He might well have added, " and the
more children you have, the better I 11 like you."

Thank God, the scene did not end there. The silence
was oppressive. The veriest savage on earth could not
have witnessed it without being moved. " Let us go
away," I whispered. At last the suspense was broken.
A handsome, manly fellow, one of the lawyers in the

case, exclaimed, " By ! I can t stand this. I knew

Colonel well. I know how he felt towards Israel

and Martha Ann and their children. This is enough to
make him turn in his grave. I am unable to make this
purchase ; but sooner than see them separated, I 11 bank
rupt myself. Mr. , I will take Martha Ann off your

hands, so as to buy her husband and children, and keep
them together."

" Well, now, you see," drawled the old fellow, pausing
in his work, with trembling hand, " if you feel that way,
the time to speak was when the gal was up for sale." His
eye glittered with the thought of turning the situation to
advantage. " You see she s mine now, and I consider


her a very desirable and very cheap purchase. Moreover,
if you want her, I think you ought to be willin to pay me
something for the time and trouble I ve wasted here
a-tryin to git her."

The proposition was sickening. But the old creature
was so small himself that his demand of profit was like
wise small, and the matter was soon arranged. Whether
he remained and bought another " chile-barin " woman
is unknown ; for, sick at heart at the sights we had
witnessed, we withdrew, and walked slowly back in the
glorious sunlight, past the neighboring church, and up
to the happy abodes of Virginia s best civilization, little
inclined to talk of the nightmare we had been through.
From that hour, the views of both of us concerning sla
very were materially modified. Throughout the day, the
horrors we had witnessed came back and back again to me ;
and, recuperative as I was, I was very, very unhappy.

That night, the experiences of the morning were the
subject of a long and anxious and earnest conversation
between father, my brother, and my uncle. At its close,
I felt much relieved and proud of them, and better satis
fied, because they were all agreed that a system in which
things like that were possible was monstrous ; and that
the question was, not whether it should be abolished, and
abolished quickly, but as to the manner of its abolition.

Within seven years from that time, my brother and my
uncle were both dead, killed in battle on opposite sides,
in a struggle resulting from slavery. Father s fortune
and happiness were engulfed in the horrible fraternal strife
which grew out of this cancer on the body politic, a can
cer which all three of those men were honestly anxious
to destroy.

Virginians ! you who in our day were led by Lee and
Jackson ! have you read this chapter ? Is it true or un-


true ? Ask yourselves calmly. The time has now come
when you ought, in justice to yourselves, to try to satisfy
yourselves wherein your old system was wrong and unjus
tifiable, as well as wherein it was right. One who loves
you wrote this story ; one who was your comrade in the
fight we lost ; one who has no word of blame for you, but,
on the contrary, believes that we had every provocation to
fight ; one who, as long as he lives, will glory in the way
we fought, and is proud of his own scars, and teaches his
children to believe that the record of Confederate valor
is a priceless heritage.

It is not written when the truth can do you harm. It
is not written by an alien in feeling, or an enthusiast for
an abstract idea. It is written to make you think, to
make you ask yourselves whether you can, before God,
claim that all was as it should be when we had slavery.
It is written to reconcile you to your loss by showing you
from what your children were delivered.

It is penned in the firm belief that some day, while
brooding upon the happiness, the wealth, the culture, the
refinement then possessed by the South, and to so large
an extent lost to her now, you may realize that all these,
delightful as they were, did not justify the curse and mis
ery of human slavery. I seek to make you realize, if
not admit, that its abolition was a greater blessing to us
even than to the slaves, and that emancipation was worth
all we surrendered, and all the precious lives that were
destroyed ; to bring you to confess, the brave and gen
erous men I know you to be, that the time has come at
last when, through our tears, and without disloyalty to
the dead, in the possession of freedom and union and lib
erty, true Confederates, viewing it all in the clearer light
and calmer atmosphere of to-day, ought to thank God
that slavery died at Appornattox.



IN the last chapter I spoke of the return of my brother
Jennings from France. After graduating at Bloomington,
Ind., and studying law at William and Mary College,
and before he attained his majority, he had received from
President Pierce an appointment in the diplomatic service,
and was sent to Berlin as attache of the American Lega
tion. He spent three years in Berlin and Heidelberg,
and was thence transferred to Paris as Secretary of Lega
tion, where he further improved himself by study, and by
contact with the most polished society in Europe. When
he returned to Virginia in 1857, at the age of twenty -five,
he was well equipped for a brilliant career. His home
coming after a long absence was the occasion of great
rejoicing in our family. It was as if a new light had sprung
up in the household. My brother was so modest and unaf
fected that his acute intellect and varied information were
not always revealed to strangers. His disposition was so
amiable that in all his life he never had a boyish quarrel
with any one. Of singularly mature and sedate nature,
he had been his father s loved and trusted companion
before his departure for foreign parts ; and now that
he had returned and was about to assume life s serious
responsibilities, they became inseparable companions. He
at first entered upon the practice of law ; but although
he secured reasonable employment, and was thoroughly
trained in common, civil, and international law, he found
the practice irksome, and lacking in excitement. His


ambition was for political distinction, and very soon he
quit the law, and became editor of the " Richmond En
quirer," the Democratic organ of Virginia. The touch
of a master hand was quickly revealed in that journal. His
familiarity with foreign politics, and the new lights shed
upon them by his knowledge and criticisms, attracted
widespread interest on the part of his fellow-journalists,
as well as the public. In domestic politics, his ardent
nature was soon made manifest upon every page. Since
the death of Father Ritchie, its once famous editor, the
" Enquirer " had lost ground, and descended to the level
of a staid and humdrum commonplace newspaper.

Within a short time the paper again stood foremost
among Southern journals, and my brother s name became
as well known as that of his father. His social successes
were not less marked than his professional triumphs.
Women and children idolized him. And well they might,
for he preferred their society to that of men. Passion
ately fond of music and of dancing, it was his delight to
steal away from the sombre circle of his own sex, or
leave the after-dinner cigar and wine, to join the ladies in
the drawing-room. There he would linger with unsatis
fied delight, listening to the music, or dancing until all
others were exhausted. An accomplished linguist, with
all sorts of interesting knowledge of the world, delight
ful in conversation, he possessed an indescribable charm
for women. Yet, although he was brought into daily
contact with exquisite creatures, whom it was almost im
possible not to love, his fondness for the other sex seemed
altogether platonic.

If a child saw him once, it never forgot him. Children
flocked about him as if he had been the Pied Piper of
Hamelin. He rejoiced in this sovereignty, and ever went
prepared with trifles to surprise and delight them.


One of the most remarkable things about him was his
unaffected piety. He never made a profession of religion,
yet he was as punctilious in church attendance as an
elder ; and in the silence of his chamber, where no one
saw him, he prayed every night before retiring. Unlike
the many blase youths who are spoiled by residence in
France, a long life in Paris had produced no visible effect
upon his purity of life or childlike faith. Whoever was
thrown with him, young or old, superior or inferior, first
wondered at his sweet simplicity, and then loved him for
his unaffected naturalness, sincerity, and gentleness. This
charming young brother, returning after so long an ab
sence as if from the dead, was a revelation and a source
of wonderment from the time I awoke in the morning
until I closed my eyes at night. This was literally true,
for until his coming, I had never seen anybody open the
day, winter and summer, with a plunge into an ice-cold
bath ; likewise, until his arrival with his Parisian love of
the theatre, I had never closed the day at the playhouse
with a companion always glad to go, be it ever so bad a

My brother Richard, near my own age, had been sent
off to boarding-school, leaving me sole occupant of our
sleeping apartment. The chambers of the Government
House were large and lonesome, and it was with unspeak
able pleasure that I obtained consent of the newcomer
that my little bed should be placed in his chamber. From
this association sprung pleasures innumerable. The mar
velous things from Paris and Berlin were sources of
unending interest and information. There were the great
German Schlagers, or dueling-swords, used by the Heidel
berg students in the contests among their fighting corps,
and in time I was fully informed about the habits of the
German universities. How it tickled me to hear the


story of young Sidney Legare, of South Carolina, who
joined the Saxon Corps, and, armed with one of these
selfsame Schlagers, fought and won his battle with a
German baron ! The inscriptions on the hilt bore the
names of the young Americans who maintained the pluck
of the United States among the Continental youth.

There also were fencing-foils and masks, with which he
had become so expert in beautiful Paris that he was
known in every salle d armes. With these we had many
a friendly bout, until I considered myself quite a rattling
blade with the foils. Then at times our conversation was
in French ; especially when I required cash, or proposed
some amusement, I plunged away at him with all the
French I could command, until I really improved in
speaking. From him also I learned much of Parisian
court life in the time of Louis Napoleon, and many a day
laughed at the stories of the intimacy between Napoleon
III. and the Hon. John Y. Mason, of Virginia, the Amer
ican Minister to France, in whose house my brother had
been regarded almost as one of the family.

My bright and joyous room-mate, bustling about
o mornings, making his toilet after his exhilarating bath,
often sang snatches of Parisian operas, or repeated long
passages from Shakespeare, Byron, and Walter Scott,
for he was full of romance. Thus I became familiar with
operatic airs, and could repeat many of the striking poet
ical quotations. And there were the Parisian clothes
and toilet articles and preparations, wonderful French
waistcoats and cravats and neckerchiefs, and boots and
shoes, and eau de quinine for those curly locks, and
pomade for that downy mustache ; every one of them
strange and new and very captivating to me. I would
rub my own frowsy mop of hair, hitherto only half
brushed, with that eau de quinine, until my scalp was as


red as a lobster, and sighed that I had no mustache on
which to test the perfumed stick pomatum. What is there
on this earth more delightful to the small boy than rum
maging among the toilet outfit and dress of a grown-up
brother? And he told me wonderful stories of knights
and ladies and tournaments, and put me to reading Sir
Walter Scott ; and gave me a famous copy of " Charles
O Malley, the Irish Dragoon," and laughed with me over
" Handy Andy ; " and in the evenings, when lessons were
difficult, lifted me along with Caesar and Virgil or mathe
matics, that we might go together later to the show. Then
there were the German wines he had brought home, four
hundred varieties ; for, while he was abstemious, and cared
little for spirituous or malt liquors, he loved to sip the
Rhine wines with his cigar ; and I, who was by no means
averse to them, was soon an expert in Niersteiners, and
Laubenheimers, and Moselle Auslice, and Liebfraumilch,
and Johannisbergers, and all the rest ; but above all, I
loved the sparkling Moselles, which have all my life
reminded me of that beloved companion of those happy
days. Oh, never had boy a friend and mentor like him,
so lovable, so affectionate, so considerate, so pure, so
stimulating to honest work, so willing, so resourceful in
innocent amusement.

One night we attended the play of " East Lynne " at
the old Richmond Theatre. The performance was poor
enough, to be sure, to a young man fresh from Paris, but
I thought it was great. On our way home, he remarked
that the only performer of merit in the caste was the
young fellow, John Wilkes Booth. In him, he said, there
was the making of a good actor. The criticism made an
impression upon me, who remembered the man and the
name. Little did I imagine then that in seven years my
beloved companion would be one of the victims of our


great national tragedy, or that, at its close, the callow
stripling who played before us that night would shock
the civilized world with the awful assassination of the

And now we come to the antithesis of all these
happy incidents. I have dwelt upon him at length with
a purpose, he illustrated a peculiar phase of that civil
ization. Gentle as was that brother, tender and lov
ing as he was to every one, devoted as a slave to his
father, deferential to his mother as if she had been a
queen, courteous and considerate towards the humblest
servant who ministered to his wants, honored and be
loved by everybody with whom he was thrown, he was
nevertheless as fearless and uncompromising in certain
things as the fiercest knight who ever entered the lists.
He was, more emphatically than any man I ever knew,
the type of the class to which he belonged. He had been
educated in a school, at home and abroad, which not only
recognized the code duello, but accepted it as the most
rational mode of settling private differences.

Of private differences personal to himself, my brother
had none. But father s reputation was the object of his
care above all others. On one occasion, when asked if
his heart had not yet been touched by woman, he replied,
" No. My love for father my desire for his advance
ment is the absorbing passion of my life. It leaves
no place for other deep affection. Female society is
indeed most attractive, but beside the other feeling, it
is a mere passing thought. I have no time for other
serious love." What an odd speech for the latter half of
the nineteenth century ! Does it not sound mediaeval ?

In the course of public discussion of public men, there
were criticisms of his father, some facetious, some
severe. Concerning such, he had determined upon a line


of action. Quick and hot and insulting came the reply
to every comment of this kind. Then followed, in due
course, the inquiry as to authorship, the avowal, the de
mand of a retraction, the refusal, the challenge, the duel.
To the young editor, there was nothing alarming in
all this, there was nothing improper, there was nothing
unexpected. He had resolved that whoever criticised
his father should do so at his peril, should be insulted,
should be fought if it was so desired, and that to this
line of conduct he would adhere until such criticism
stopped, or he himself stopped a bullet.

How absurd, how utterly Quixotic, such a course seems
to us to-day ! Yet, in that time, not only was it deemed
no absurdity, but a great number of the community, in
fact a majority, regarded it as natural and manly, evincing
chivalry of the very highest order.

Now, whatever other commodities may have been scarce
in Virginia markets of that time, fighting was as easily
obtainable as blackberries in June. Not many young
Virginians were his peers in intellect and accomplish
ments, but there were many who were as brave and no
more intimidated by the danger of a duel. Many such
were opposed to him in politics, and were unwilling to
forego, from any fear of fighting, the decided expression
of their opinions on politics in general, or of his father
in particular.

The result was that he had all the dueling the most
enthusiastic advocate of the sport could desire, for the
next two years. A cabal of father s political antagonists
held a conclave, if reports were true, and determined that
the son was an obstacle in their way, to be disposed of,
in furtherance of their arrangements to defeat the father.
Under these refined, humane, and highly civilized condi
tions, my brother Jennings actually fought eight duels in


less than two years. It all seems ludicrous to us, in our
prosaic, commonplace, and common-sense way of looking
at things nowadays ; but it was no joke to me, when
every two or three months I missed my beloved compan
ion from his room and bed for several days, only to learn
that he was engaged in fighting another duel. Pitiful
and anxious indeed were the days and nights passed on
such occasions, waiting to know the result. To me it was
an enigma past my comprehension. What it was all
about, I could not understand. I would read, and read
again, the publications leading to these fearful duels ;
and for the life of me I could not comprehend what there
was in them to drive men to seek each other s lives. I
could not conceive the mental or moral processes by
which my sweet brother, who never quarreled with any
body, could bring himself, without anger, to shoot at
another man with deadly intent. And when he returned,
laughing at the eagerness of my embraces and welcome,
and apparently bearing no ill-will towards anybody or
anything on earth, and when I saw him say his prayers at
night, and go to church, and mingle in gay society, just
as he had done before, the mystery only deepened.

My brother most certainly seemed to bear a charmed
life, for no one ever hit him in these many encounters.
On the other hand, it was no mystery to me that he hit
nobody himself, for I knew that a more execrable shot
never went afield. Sometimes, after this abominable duel
ing began, we practiced with dueling-pistols. His foreign
education had trained him only in the use of the broad
sword and the foils, and these were not American weapons.
On several occasions, I saw enough of his bad marksman
ship to know that if he hit anybody it would be by acci
dent ; for he was both inexpert and inapt with firearms,
and I easily outstripped him in marksmanship.


The thing went on ; duel after duel occurred. In one
of them, the gallant fellow, after his opponent fired, dis
charged his pistol in the air, because his adversary was
near-sighted and at his mercy. In another, after ineffec
tual exchange of shots and the customary palaver, matters
had been adjusted. At last, on another occasion, the antag
onists had actually started to leave the field, when his
adversary demanded another shot. His demand was
acceded to, and at the next fire my brother succeeded in
hitting him, and seriously wounded him. Little credit
he deserved for marksmanship ; it was another instance
like that of the shooter portrayed in " Punch," in which
a sportsman, hitting a bird after many failures, appealed
to the Scotch game-keeper : " Ah, Sandy, I hit that one."
" Yes, sir," was the reply, " they will fly into it some
times." But whether designed or accidental, this last
performance, after making a great hubbub for a few
days, resulted in giving him a breathing-spell, and he had
no more duels prior to the outbreak of the war.



IN all her history, from the formation of the federal
government until the hour of secession, no year stands
out more prominently than the year 1858 as evidencing
the national patriotism of Virginia. To one participating
in the scenes enacted in Richmond, and listening to the
speeches of her leaders, the statement that within three
years the old commonwealth would renounce allegiance to
the federal Union would have seemed preposterous.

The State, at great expense, had reared a noble monu
ment to the memory of George Washington. It consists
of a central shaft surmounted by an equestrian statue of
Washington, with six smaller plinths, on which are placed
heroic figures of Virginians, representing different periods
of her greatness.

Not one of these men was famous for deeds done on
behalf of Virginia alone. The fame of each and every
one of them rests upon public services, or sacrifices for the

Among such, Virginia finds her greatest names.
There was Washington, her son, father of his country ;
there, too, Andrew Lewis, who penetrated the unexplored
wilderness of the Northwest and made it hers. Yet she
joyously ceded all claims upon it to the nation, as her
contribution to perpetual union and fraternity, imposing
only the conditions that slavery should never exist there,


and that alternate sections of land should be dedicated
to public education. There was also Patrick Henry, who
roused thirteen colonies to revolution with his immortal
eloquence ; and George Mason, who drafted a bill of
rights epitomizing the aspirations and safeguards of
republican institutions in language which, from then until
now, has furnished the substance of the written charts of
government of all the newly admitted States ; and Thomas
Jefferson, sage, philosopher, and seer, author of the
Declaration of Independence, the Statutes of Religious
Liberty, and founder of Virginia s university ; and Gen
eral Thomas Nelson, who devoted his fortune to the Conti
nental struggle, and trained an American cannon upon
his own house when it was the headquarters of Corn-
wallis at Yorktown ; and John Marshall, who began his
public career as captain in a Virginia regiment, served at
Valley Forge and Monmouth, and afterwards, as Chief
Justice of the United States, was the peerless expounder
of that Constitution which he had fought to establish.

Oh, what a galaxy of men, encompassing the very
heavens of our national life ! What other commonwealth
could produce its like then ? What other can produce it

Is it surprising that the Virginians, whose State was
mother of the nation s father, whose great Chief Justice,
the youngest of the immortal group, was the lodestar of
constitutional construction, loved that Union and rejoiced
in it, and honored it from their hearts inmost depths ?

In other States, jealousies and animosities against the
Union may have existed, but, up to that time at least,
such sentiments found little lodgment in the breasts of
the Virginians.

With beating hearts and honest pride, they assembled
from every section, February 22, 1858, to unveil the


equestrian statue of Washington. The figures of Henry

Online LibraryJohn S. (John Sergeant) WiseThe end of an era → online text (page 7 of 35)