Rufus H. Peck.

Reminiscences of a Confederate soldier of Co. C, 2nd Va. Cavalry online

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horse by lantern light. I wanted to stay with Poindexter but Mr. and Mrs.
Machen insisted on my going to the house and staying with them. I did so
and the next morning when I went to see about my horse. Buford had bled
him again. I rode the horse that I had found and caught in the road back to
the commanci and I found that an application had been made for a furlough
for me to go home and get a good horse th t I had there. The sorre! war,
pretty well broken down and I dida"t want to ri.^k hi.n, wnen I had a better
one at home.

The day after I got back to the command the Yankees aimed to make a
fiank movement at Cold Harber and go up the Mechanicsville road to Rich-
mond, only a short distance. We were ordered to meet them at Cold Harber
and we had a desperate encounter. When we got there the ballets were fast
raining on us, but the air was blowing from us and we couldn't hear a sound.
We couldn't see them, but they could tell where we werte moving as it was a
very dry time and a cloud of dust arose as we marched. Several of our rnen
were v/cunded before we dismounted. A fellow by the name of Moore was
holding his head up listening aiid I sav/ him. as a bullet hit him in the neck
and passed between his swallow and windpipe, Caneer of Lynchburg was shot
in the arm, but both recovered. We began fortifying and just as the enemy
came in sight, the 57Llii.Va. regiment came to reinforce us and they tO(jk our
position and we moved farther down, to the right, still fortifying. After a
while the 60th Va. relieved the 57th and they came and tooK our place, com-
pleting the fortifying we had started. We m >ved still farther to the right.
We dug and shoveled dirt all night finishing our fortifications. Some would
work while others slept and then they would wake up the sleepers and they'd
go to work while the others slept.

The next morning the 60th regiment passed down the line and I recogniz-
ed two of my nearest neighbors, at home, Harrington Jones and Albert Curd.
I said hello, Albert, and he stopped very suddenly and a lantern jawed
fellow, with his mouth wide open, who was walking right behind him, swal-
lowed about six inches of Alberts gun. He had tremendous teeth and I could
hear the teeth scaping over the gun barrel. The fellow yelled out at Albert
"what in the hell did you stop for?" Albert said: "Pshaw, what are you eat-
ing my gun for, didn't you have any breakfast?" In a few hours we were

ordered out to intimidate the Yankee cavalry anJ be ready if they made an
attack, and directly we saw a horse KicKing and rearing around and he came
dashing across the field, right to our regiment and one of our men ran out and
met him and captured horse and rider-
There was an old white rooster tied on the saddle just flopping away, so
his prospective chicken roast had caused his capture. We sent him on to
Richmond and ate the chicken. The very next day the treacherous horse be-
came frightened and carried one of our men into the enem_y\s lines. We cheer-
ed both men as they came and went.

We didn't do any fighting that day but the infantry fought all day, but
our men still held their position. There were thousands of men released on
both sides. The Yankees charged all night as well as day for two or 3 days.
The north lost, I guess, ten men to our one though, as we were well fortified
and they were not. Grant seemed determined to force through our breastworks
but he failed. Sheridan couldn't and Grant thought he would. We still
held our post to keep any of the enemy from getting around and a strong
force of cavalry was on the left of our infantry to prevent Grant from sending
any troops around that way. He was Known as the old left flanker. The cav-
alry was not in any of the hottest of this battle, a§ we, occupied the extreme
ends of the line •

This was in July and the next March, I passed over the ground, across
Vvhich the Yankees had charged and I could hardly step without tramping on
the bones still in the uniforms of the blue. They had buried some in very deep
gullies, just piled them and cut brush and threw some dirt over them but
the rains, had by this time, washed out the bones and the land was strewn
v/ith skulls for a half mile, or more. A lot of rushes grew down in the low
lands below the end of the gulley and I saw a pile of something that looked like
snow. I went down to see what it was and found it was skulls piled against
the rushes. I found a dentist from Appomattox Co there getting teeth that
were filled with gold. He had his haversacK about full.

Just after the battle of Cold Harber, my furlough came and I started
home for a horse. While I was at home Wilson made a raid toward
Petersburg and Fitz Lee and Hampton met him and drove him back and
captured some men and about 100 horses. As i went bacK to the war I pass-
ed through Bedford City and stayed all night at the same place I stayed
when I first went to the war.

I found our command near Ream's Station, not far from Petersburg.
In a short time after I got there, we were called out to go to the White House
on the York River. We crossed the James River on pontoon bridges, below
Richmond and rode all day and night, arriving there just before day. At day-
light we saw three ironclad boats in the river and as the fog cleared away one
beat moved up the river and one down %nd turned broadside and opened fire
on us, firing three or four guns at once. We moved bacK out of sight be-


fore they got our range, so we didn't lose any one just then. Then

we dismounted and were marched by fours up above the White
House and down to the river, where we could see the enemy drilling in a piece
of meadow land just belov/ the town, called the White House. We were not
ordered to charge at all, but were marched back to our horses and mounted
and went a couple of miles back in the direction of Charles City C. H. and went
into cam^p, remaining there all night.

The next morning, after eating breakfast we were ordered to mount and
just then a courier came with a dispatch to Fitz Lee and he sent it on to Col.
Munford who was commanding our brigade. Col. Munford sent Co. C. and D-
to form a skirmish line and we v/ere ordered to forward march. The other 8
companies followed in regular line of battle. When we had gone a short dis-
tance we came to a lot of pines about as high as a man's head and a fence that
had been through this pine field, had been torn down and the rails piled, form-
ing a fortification. The Yankee skirmish line was lying behind this, but broKe
and ran, before we shot at them at ail. We pursued them and when we got
out of the pines, we saw them going to several buildings around a farm house.
We followed them and they took refuge in a log barn and shot at us
through the cracKs, but over ^shot us, not even wounding a man. We swung
around the barn and when they saw we were going to get them, about 25 of
them ran out and aimed to escape through a solid plank gate, and rushed
against the gate thinking it opened out, I suppose, but it opened back against
them. The foremost man couldn't get the others back to open it. of course,
and we ordered them to surrender, but they wouldn't ^nd began firing at us,
so we had to fire at them, we Killed or Vv^ounded every man. They were
supporting six pieces of artillery on the hill above us, v/hich was firing at us
all the time, but overshooting us. We went up the hill to take the artillery,
but before we got there, they had retreated. The only loss we sustained wa.**
by a bumshell hanging in the limbs of a tall, slender, sweet gum tree, and its
weight and force tooK the tre.o right to the ground bursting the shell and strik-
ing Capt. Tibbs of Co. K from Albermarle Co., cutting his head clear off The
first and third regiments followed the retreating artillery awhile and put a
couple of negro regiments to llight, bat could not overtake the artillery. We
drev/ in all our pickets an^ started back toward Richmond. We traveled
about 15 miles and made up fires and camped until morning, then continued
our march back to t'etersbu rg. We had left our weak horses and a few of
the men at the old camp.

Everything was quiet for a few days. One evening late, v/e heard a ter-
rible repurl and didn.t know just what to make of it, so we went down to
Petersburg and stayed all night in the streets. Some remained mounted, while
others dismounted, awaitimg future orders. We learned when we g(.t there
that Grant had undermined our breastworks below Petersburg and had blown
them up, sustaining a very heavy loss of his men. We went back to camp the
next day and remained for a week or so. We had a fine time there catching
eels. We practically lived on them

We next had orders to prepare three day's rations and march toward Rich-

mond. We passed through Richmond and crossed the Blue Ridge at Brown's
Gap and into the Valley of Virginia. Here we found fine hay stacks, big barns,
nir-e houses, and we thought we had struck a bonanza Gen. John C. BrecKin-
ridgH, commanding a large division of infantry and cavalry, came into the
Vallt-y just after we did. We knew something was coming off soon, but didn't
know just what.

A few days after that our pickets came in and said that Sheridan was
coming up th'e Valley with a still larger force than we had. Our troops made
a stand near Winchester, but were unable to hold it. We had no fortifications
and word came to Fitz Lee's cavalry that the 60th Va. Regiment had been
captured and we were ordered out to try to recapture it. We hurried to the
scene and succeeded in getting about half of them, but a Yankee cavalry Gen.
marched the others off prisoners at the same time. We were placed at differ-
ent positions to let the enem> Know that our cavalry was present, and the
inf^try was left at the temporary breastworks, fighting hard. The enemy
often shelled us so that we'd have to get out of sight.

We lost eight or ten commissioned officers and a number of men, but none
of mv company was killed that day. One of our General's horses, a beautiful
dun, had one leg shot and broken above the Knee and we were ordered about
that time to hurry up to the forts above Winchester and hold the enemy in
check. We galloped the two or three miles and this beautiful horse kept right
with the others, all the way, galloping on three legs, the broken leg would
swing in and out as he galloped, but he never offered to halt. It was certainly
a pitiful sight to see his courage when we knew his pain. The officer wanted
some of us to shoot him, but no one had the heart to do it, so we had to leave
him and I never knew what became of him. We remained at the forts until
about night and the enemy not putting in its appearance, we retreated up the
back road, it was called, paralled to the mountain and passed through a beauti-
ful village, called Darksviile. We camped a few miles above the town that
night and continued our retreat the next day until we came to Fishers Hill.
The infantry began its retreat when we did, and made a stop also. We had
a considerable fight, Sheridan succeeding in driving us up the Valley.

We next halted at ..olumbia Furnace, but Sheridan drove us about six
miles farthar. In this encounter Lieut- Ed. Hayth, my cousin, was wounded
and he and a lot of other men got cut oft' from us in some way and went up in
a mountain valley. They couldn't get back on account of Sheridan's men be-
ing at the mouth of the valley. Tim Stevens and I got permission from Col.
Munford to go across the first rid^e above where Sheridan's men were and try
to find Ed Hayth and one of of Stevens relatives, who had been wounded, also.
Here we learned from the citizens that the men's wounds had been dressed and
that they had left and went out after Sheridan's men moved beyond the mouth
of the valley.

They told us of a near way to get back to our command and just at the


top of the ridge we stoped for dinner at a farm house. I remenber tw,3 dishps
they had was peach family pie and honey. Both were always very pleasing to
njy taste and especially so then. I bought some of the honey from the lady and
tooK it on back to camp with me. Some of the boys detected the taste of
laurel on the honey, but the lady had sweet milk to dnnk at her table, so I
hadn't noticed it. I wanted the boys to eat all the honey so I could taKe the
box back with me that day to another farm house and buy more. I had a two
day's detatchment and had only used one. so I thoug:ht I'd use that day forag-
ing. The b)ys didn't care to eat it all and I told them i would tini.«h it if it
Killed me. Of course, I just said it iokingiy, but it came very near ending
very seriously. I saddled my horse and was ready to start, but began to get
so sick and in a few minutes was perfectly unconscious. The boys ran for
Dr. Shacklefordand he sent for the doctors, from the 1-3-4-5 regiments and all
pronounced my case fatal, from poison, except Dr. Drew from the 4th regi-
ment. In my imagination, I remember, I fought the battle at Columbia
Furnace, now called Bridgewater, I believe, and thought I Was captured, and
once that the artillery ran over me. I suffered dreadfully for hours, but re-
gained conciousness after the middle of the day. One of my "mess mates,"
Wm. B. Bowyer, who was chief of the blacksmiths of our regiment, came and
stayed with me, as soon as he heard 1 was sick and he was the first one I rec-

At about 2 o'clock we were ordered to move and the ambulance was sent
to haul me but I wouldn't jjo in it. I told them to put me on my horse and I
could go better that way. Two men put me on the horse and wanted to tie me,
but I told them I believed I could sit on, and to let me try it for a while any
way. We started off, and strange to say. I rode the ten miles with the others
alright and felt perfectly well when we re\ched our destination. I've always
been fond of honey, but I'll tell you I'm very careful to notice if there is any
bitter taste about it before eating any, ever since that day.

Sheridan was called bacK to Winchester and Gen. Gordon suggested to
Gen. Jubal A. Earley that if he woal(i give him control of the army from mid-
night until mid-day. he would surprise Sheridan's army in his absence and
make a big capture. Sheridan's men were in camp at Cedar Creek and we
were a few miles above them. So Gen. Gordon called out the whole army ;ind
had them ready just before daybreak. We went down to the outposts and
waited for daylight to make the attack.

We attacked them and then soon began fo retreat. Some of them just
rushed out without shoes and in their night clothes, without guns. It was a
perfect stampede, and very few guns were fired at first. After a while the
artillery took a position and began firing: on us and we on them, and Sheridan
hearing the noise, knew his men had been attacked, and hurried to the scene.
I was in the skirmish line, as usual, j^nd saw him galloping up on his fine black
horse, "Rienza." I said to some of the boys its over with now, for j'onder
comes Sheridan and he'll change things around here. I sent a courier immedi-


ately to Col. Munford, telling him and he said : "Peck must be crazy. Sheridan
is at Winchester. " I told the courier, alright, Munford would soon see who
was crazy. In less than 15 minutes a cheer passed all along the enemy's lines :
"Three cheers for Philip Sheridan." Sheridan wheeled his men around and told
thern to charge us and they did so. recapturing all we had taken from them
and capturing a great many of our men and equipments. We had to fall
back up the Valley and went into camp a few miles above there. Sheridan was
gradually driving us at his will, in most cases, now.

At the Massamit Mountain, he succeeded in getting his army around in
front of our infantry. Gen. Fitz Lee, with the cavalry, went through a colon
on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountain and struck the road leading from
Charlottesville to Waynesboro.

When we struck the road, we found that the citizens had fortified and there
were about 100 armed men and boys, some of the boys only large enough to
carry a gun. They were at the fortifications aiming to stop any raiding parties
or the enemy from passing and going to Charlottesville.

Fitz Lee ordered us to dismount and every fourth man to hold horses and
the others form into line. We advanced down toward Waynesboro, and the
little boys begged so to get in line that they and the citizens also were allowed
to go on in the line of battle. The enemy didn't open fire on us until we were
real near the town and then they only used artillery. Our artillery came around
on the west side, by this time, and fired bacK at them, but they retreated
through the town and formed a line farther west. We only lost five men,
and that was from a shell fired by our own artillery that struck in a tree
near us and exploded, killing five of our men.

We went through the town and in sight of the fortifications, but were
ordered bacK into the village and the artillery came and did all the firing.
To get out of range of the guns, while we were not firing, about 75 of us
lay down in a basement where a house had been burned a year or so before,
Hnd our artillery and that of the enemy was firmg over us for a while and
the roar nearly deafened us. I have never yet heard out of my left ear as
well as I did before. The firing stopped about nightfall and we remained
there until the next morning.

When we went up to Gettysburg and burned the commissaries at Car-
lisle, Penn., and Thad Stevens Iron Works, and the packet boats at Seneca
Falls, I told them I was bitterly opposed to setting the torch to the enemy's
property, for it meant greater loss for us when they would retaliate. Since
that, our men, Earley and McCoslin, had burned Chambersburg, so I guess
Sheridan thought he was iri_a good position to retaliate now. The morning
we left Waynesboro, I counted 100 barns, granaries, mills and wheat ricks,
burning. We were on an elevation and could see a long distance. We knew
it was the beginning of a dreadful disaster to the Confederacy.


Sheridan pnssed on, burnino: as he went, only leavinof dwellings and one
mill in every ten miles. He was like a spoilt child. Drove well, as Ions: as we
followed at a distance, hut as soon as we would press him, he would halt and
fig^ht us. As hiN' forces out-numbered ours so much, all we could do was to
keep our distance and let him go on. Every night we camped and rested and
so did he.

Recruits v/ere comintr in occasionally, and one youn^ fellow, Dick Oliver,
from Orange Co.. came to us on this march toward Harper's Ferry. We were
scarce of men for picket duty about that time, in our company, and some one
suggested to send this new man, and an old picket guard with him. as it was
his first service. So the Orderly Serg. introduced me to young Oliver as Bro.
Peck and told him I would accompany him.

We got the countersign and watchword ^nd started for our picKet post.
He was a very intelligent youn^' man and highly educated. We were standing
guard on the Shenandoah river and after being out awhile, he said it reminded
him of the of Israel going from Egypt back to the Land of Canaan.
He made a mistake in relating some of the narrative and 1 called his attention
to it and he remc^mbered then, that I was right He talked on a while and soon
made another error. He then said that he didn't remember the Bible as he did
other things and for me to take the subject and we'd talK it over together, as
it was very interesting to him I told him. 1 thought to make the topic more
interesting, it v/as better to start with the baby, Moses, and how Miriam had
watched him in his little basket in the rushes, and I came on up to his manhood
when he was Pharouh's adopted son ; then how God had spoken to him from
the burning bush. Then I talked on of how Moses tried to get Pharoah to let
the children of Israel go back to their own land and of his crossing the Red Sea
with them ; how the 12 spies were sent to explore the Land of Canaan and ten
reported a bad land and only two, .Joshua and Caleb, said it was a good land.
The report of the ten spies so discouraged the children of Israel that they re-
belled, and God punished them by keeping them wandering in the wilderness
40 years. And by the time I got through with it all, and Moses on Mount Nebo,
and fought two or three battles over in Canaan with J>.shua and Caleb, I heard
an old rooster crow at a farm house, near. We went bacK into camp after
daybreak, and Oliver went to the Serg. and said : 'What in the world did you
send the Chaplain out there with me for ? I had two canteens of whiskey and
wanted some so bad all ni;./-ht. but hateti to ask the parson to drink with me or
drink in his presence." The vSetg. said ; "You %re crazy, I never sent the
Chaplain with you." Oliver saia : '"Oh yes. you did. 1 was spouting some cf
the Bible and he corrected me twice and commenced at the birth of Moses and
talked on for more thanSOyear.s Why he knows the Bible by heart. I believe !"
The S^rg. had a hearty laujjh and wh^Mi the other bo.vs found it out, I was
called "Paraon" for a long time I regretted his mistake, of course, as I
missed several drinks that would have helpt;d me over the night very much.

We marched all that d.iy and at night we ne-ded rations and Capt. James
Br-ckinrid^e told nie to butcher some sheep that some of our men had captur-
ed from Sh< i idan- Sheridan was driving off all the cattle, sheen, hogs and

horses, that he could get to starve us out, but we captured sheep and cattle
from him occasionally and these had been put in a tobacco house near. I went
to the house and butchered two of the sheep in the dark, and got them dressed
by about one o'clock. I then went to the nearest house to get vessels to cook
the mutton in, and no one answered me when I called. Of course, at that time
of night they were all asleep. But finally a lady called down from an upper
window and I told her I had orders to press their cooking utensils into service,
and I'd like for her to get them for me. She came down and helped me to get
the mutton to cooking, and was as kind as any one could be. By the time the
army came along the next morning, I had the mutton ready and each's
bread and mutton cut off, and handed it out as they passed. When young
Oliver passed with Sandy White, Sandy told Oliver that he ought to feel com-
plimented to have the chaplain serving him, and we had a laugh over the joke
and thjy rode on. Capt. Breckinridge was among the last coming by and told
me 1 had better butcher a couple more of the sheep and cook them at this same
ph^ce that day. and have it ready for the next day's rations, and he would
send and get it. So I went to worK and got it ready, but by the time I got tha
meat to boiling, word came to me that Oliver had been Killed and Sandy White
mortally wounded and captured. Such is life in warfare. Oliver had only
been with us; two days and nights until he was Killed.

As soon as the meat had been cooked, the wagon came for it and I went
on with the wagon and joined the command about 10 miles farther on, where
they had encamped. We remained here until ordered back to Petersburg.

Chas. Gaboon and I Were sent out on picket one day and there was a
nice brick house near where we thnught we had to stand guard, so I went
up and called and asked the lady of the house if this wasn't the place the
pickets usually stood. She said, in a very gruff way : "No, it is where the
thieves stand, you are every one a set of nasty thieves." I said, is it possible
that you would call such gentlemen as we are, thieves ? Now, what would my
mother say if she knew her son had been called a thief? I'm certainly sorry
to know that you have such an opinion of us. She said : "Well that is all you
are and I'll never believe anything else until you prove it." I told her, now
s nee she had branded me as a thief I was going to take something. She said :
"No you won't, for I'm going to watch you." She sat on the porch and watch-
ed u.s a part of the time and her daughter watched when she left. She had
the scho )1 childreii, about 60 yards away, watching, and the old man was
watching, aL-o She told the school teacher to watch us, so they'd be sure that
v/e wouldn't get anything.

I fed the horses before the school children got out for dinner and held some
corn in my hand to bait the chickens, I helloed, "shew !" And pretended to
try to drive the chickens away, but was showing them the corn and calling so
the old lady couldn't hear me. Directly one came and ate from my hand and I
just closed my hand on it and twisted its head off , and slipped it under my over-

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Online LibraryRufus H. PeckReminiscences of a Confederate soldier of Co. C, 2nd Va. Cavalry → online text (page 7 of 10)