Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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and cheerfully crossed the Potomac and then a few days
later more rapidly and less cheerfully recrossed it. I
think it is due to historical accuracy and to a proper re-
spect for social regulations, to explain that no discourtesy
whatever was intended by our unceremonious departure.
Our visit was cut short by circumstances over which we
did not have entire cpntrol, and for which we cannot be
held exclusively responsible. [Laughter.]

Twenty months passed before our next visit. The war
was over. We had changed our minds and had concluded
not to set up a separate government. When we returned
to you again, therefore, we came to stay. No more with
hostile banners waving in defiance above gray-clad battle
lines, but rallying now with all our countrymen around
this common flag, whose crimson stripes are made redder
and richer by Southern as well as Northern blood, and
whose stars are brighter because they emblem the glory
of both Northern and Southern achievements. We re-
turned not with rifles in our hands, demanding separation
as the price of peace; but with hands outstretched to
grasp those extended by the North in sincere and endless
brotherhood. We returned, too, without lingering bitter-
ness, or puerile repining; but with a patriotism always
broad and sincere, now intensified and refined in the fires
of adversity, to renew our vows of fidelity to that un-
rivaled constitutional government bequeathed by our
fathers and theirs ; and by God's help to make with them
the joint guarantee that this Republic, and its people and
the States which compose it, shall remain united co-
equal, and forever free. [Applause.]

It was the fortune of my command to be separated from
General Lee's army after crossing into Pennsylvania, and
to penetrate further into the heart of that State than any
other Confederate troops, and to pass through that por-
tion of Pennylvania inhabited by what they call Penn-
sylvania Dutch, an unwarlike, magnificent people, priding
themselves on their well cultivated fields, their colossal
red barns, and horses nearly as big as barns. Some of
those horses disappeared about that time from those
barns, and by some strange coincidence they were found
the next day securely tied in the Confederate camp. How
they got there, whether through sympathy for the South-


ern cause, or were drafted into service, I never knew ; to
be honest about it, I never inquired ; but they were there,
and evidently without their owner's consent. This fact was
soon made manifest by one of those owners announcing
to me in his broken English, as well as I could understand
him, that I had his mare. I endeavored to explain to this
Pennsylvania Dutchman that we were obliged to take
some of Pennsylvania's horses to pay for those the boys
in blue had been taking from us. This explanation, which
was entirely satisfactory to me, was not at all so to the
Dutchman. He insisted that I pay him for his mare, and
I at once offered to pay him full price in Confederate
money. This he indignantly refused. Whereupon I of-
fered, in fact I gave him a written order for the full price
of his mare, on President Abraham Lincoln, of the United
States. [Laughter.] This he liked much better in fact,
he was absolutely satisfied with that mode of settlement,
until there crept into his brain some doubt about my
authority for drawing on the President of the United
States. He had a good deal of difficulty in understanding
by what right a Confederate General could draw on the
President for money to pay for horses to serve in the
Confederate army ; and the more he thought of it the less
light he had on the subject ; and at last, when he saw the
truth, he discharged at me a perfect volley of Dutch ex-
pletives, and ended by saying, " I have been married three
times, and I vood not geeve dot mare for all dose
vomans." [Laughter.] I relented and gave him back
his mare. Now, the great injustice done by him to the
womanhood of his State was made manifest a few days
later by the heroic conduct of one of Pennsylvania's
noblest daughters. The retreating Federals had fired the
bridge which spanned the Susquehanna river at the town
of Wrightsville, where lived this superb woman, whom I
shall designate as the " heroine of the Susquehanna."
Wrightsville would have been inevitably consumed but
for the fact that my command was formed around the
burning district, and at a late hour of night checked the
flames. The house which would have been next con-
sumed was the home of the superb woman of whom I am
about to speak. Early the next morning she invited me
to breakfast at her house with my staff. Seated at her



table was this modest, refined Northern woman, sur-
rounded by none except Confederate soldiers; but she
was so dignified, calm, and kind that I immediately imag-
ined that I had found a Southern sympathizer in the heart
of Pennsylvania, and I ventured some remark which in-
dicated to her the thought that was in my brain. In an
instant her eyes were flashing with patriotic fire, and she
turned to me and said : " General Gordon, I cannot af-
ford, sir, to have you misunderstand me, nor misinterpret
this courtesy. You and your soldiers last night saved my
home from burning, and I desired to give you this evi-
dence of my appreciation ; but my own honor and loyalty
to my soldier husband demand that I tell you plainly that
I am a Union woman that my husband and son are both
in the Union army with my approval, and that my daily
prayer to Heaven is that the Union cause may triumph
and our country be saved."

My fellow countrymen, I think that every gallant man,
North, South, East and West, will echo the sentiment I
am about to utter. To my thought a woman with such
courage of her convictions of duty to her country, and
in the presence of a hostile army, deserves a lofty niche in
patriotism's temple. [Applause.]

And now I am sure this generous audience will pardon
me if I ask what words of mine could measure the grati-
tude due from me and my comrades who wore the gray,
to glorious Southern women for their part in that great
struggle? Of course, I was perfectly familiar with the
Spartan courage and self-sacrifice of Southern women in
every stage and trial of that war. I had seen those patri-
otic women of our Southland sending their husbands and
their fathers, their brothers and their sons to the front,
cheering them in the hour of disaster and tempering their
joys in the hour of triumph. I had witnessed the South-
ern mother's anguish, a! with breaking heart and stream-
ing eyes she gave to her beloved boy her parting bless-
ing: "Go, my son," she said, "go to the front. I per-
haps will never see you again ; but I freely commit you to
God, and to the defense of your people." I had seen
those Southern women with the sick, the wounded, and
the dying; and in the late stages of that war, I had been
made to marvel at their saintly spirit of martyrdom,


standing as it were, almost neck deep in the desolation
around them, and yet bravely facing their fate while the
light of Heaven itself played around their divinely beauti-
ful faces. [Applause.] And now I had found their coun-
terpart in this " heroine of the Susquehanna," this repre-
sentative of noble Northern womanhood this represent-
ative of tens of thousands of American women, of whose
costly sacrifices for country the world will never know.
To my comrades, therefore, I submit this proposition,
which I know their brave hearts to a man will echo. That
proposition is, that these sufferings and sacrifices and de-
votion of the American women during that Titanic con-
flict must remain through all the ages as cherished a me-
morial as the rich libations of blood poured out by their
brave brothers in battle. [Applause.]

But now to Gettysburg. That great battle could not
be described in the space of a lecture. I shall select from
the myriad of thrilling incidents which rush over my mem-
ory but two. The first I relate because it seems due to
one of the bravest and knightliest soldiers of the Union
army. As my command came back from the Susquehanna
River to Gettysburg, it was thrown squarely on the right
flank of the Union army. The fact that that portion of
the Union army melted was no disparagement either of
its courage or its lofty American manhood, for any troops
that had ever been marshaled, the Old Guard itself, would
have been as surely and swiftly shattered. It was that
movement that gave to the Confederate army the first
day's victory at Gettysburg; and as I rode forward over
that field of green clover, made red with the blood of both
armies, I found a Major-General among the dead and the
dying. But a few moments before, I had seen the proud
form of that magnificent Union officer reel in the saddle
and then fall in the white smoke of the battle ; and as I rode
by, intensely looking into his pale face, which was turned
to the broiling rays of that scorching July sun, I discov-
ered that he was not dead. Dismounting from my horse, I
lifted his head with one hand, gave him water from my
canteen, inquired his name and if he was badly hurt. He
was General Francis C. Barlow, of New York. He had
been shot from his horse while grandly leading a charge.
The ball had struck him in front, passed through the



body and out near the spinal cord, completely paralyzing
him in every limb ; neither he nor I supposed he could live
for one hour. I desired to remove him before death from
that terrific sun. I had him lifted on a litter and borne to
the shade in the rear. As he bade me good-bye, and upon
my inquiry what I could do for him, he asked me to take
from his side pocket a bunch of letters. Those letters
were from his wife, and as I opened one at his request, and
as his eye caught, as he supposed, for the last time, that
wife's signature, the great tears came like a fountain and
rolled down his pale face ; and he said to me, " General
Gordon, you are a Confederate; I am a Union soldier;
but we are both Americans; if you should live through
this dreadful war and ever see my wife, will you not do me
the kindness to tell my wife for me that you saw me on
this field ? Tell her for me, that my last thought on earth
was of her; tell her for me that you saw me fall in this
battle, and that her husband fell, not in the rear, but at
the head of his column; tell her for me, General, that I
freely give my life to my country, but that my unutterable
grief is that I must now go without the privilege of seeing
her once more, and bidding her a long and loving fare-
well." I at once said : " Where is Mrs. Barlow, General?
Where could I find her?" for I was determined that wife
should receive that gallant husband's message. He re-
plied : " She is very close to me ; she is just back of the
Union line of battle with the Commander-in-Chief at his
headquarters." That announcement of Mrs. Barlow's
presence with the Union army struck in this heart of mine
another chord of deepest and tenderest sympathy ; for my
wife had followed me, sharing with me the privations of
the camp, the fatigues of the march ; again and again was
she under fire, and always on the very verge of the battle
was that devoted wife of mine, like an angel of protection
and an inspiration to duty. I replied : " Of course, Gen-
eral Barlow, if I am alive, sir, when this day's battle, now
in progress, is ended if I am not shot dead before the
night comes you may die satisfied that I will see to it
that Mrs. Barlow has your message before to-morrow's

And I did. [Applause.] The moment the guns had
ceased their roar on the hills, I sent a flag of truce


with a note to Mrs. Barlow. I did not tell her I did not
have the heart to tell her that her husband was dead, as
I believed him to be; but I did tell her that he was des-
perately wounded, a prisoner in my hands; but that she
should have safe escort through my lines to her husband's
side. [Applause.] Late that night, as I lay in the open
field upon my saddle, a picket from my front announced
a lady on the line. She was Mrs. Barlow. She had re-
ceived my note and was struggling, under the guidance of
officers of the Union army, to penetrate my lines and
reach her husband's side. She was guided to his side by
my staff during the night. Early next morning the battle
was renewed, and the following day, and then came the
retreat of Lee's immortal army. I thought no more of
that gallant son of the North, General Barlow, except to
count him among the thousands of Americans who had
gone down on both sides in the dreadful battle. Strangely
enough, as the war progressed, Barlow concluded not to
die ; Providence decreed that he should live. He recovered
and rejoined his command; and just one year after that,
Barlow saw that I was killed in another battle. The ex-
planation is perfectly simple. A cousin of mine, with the
same initials, General J. B. Gordon, of North Carolina,
was killed in a battle near Richmond. Barlow, who, as I
say, had recovered and rejoined his command although
I knew he was dead, or thought I did picked up a news-
paper and read this item in it: "General J. B. Gor-
don of the Confederate army was killed to-day in battle."
Calling his staff around him, Barlow read that item and
said to them, " I am very sorry to see this ; you will re-
member that General j. B. Gordon was the officer who
picked me up on the battlefield at Gettysburg, and sent
my wife through his lines to me at night. I am very

Fifteen years passed. Now, I wish the audience to re-
member that during all those fifteen years which inter-
vened, Barlow was dead to me, and for fourteen of them
I was dead to Barlow. In the meantime, the partiality of
the people of Georgia had placed me in the United States
Senate. Clarkson Potter was a Member of Congress
from New York. He invited me to dine with him to meet
his friend, General Barlow. Now came my time to think.



" Barlow," I said, " Barlow? That is the same name, but
it can't be my Barlow, for I left him dead at Gettysburg."
And I endeavored to understand what it meant, and
thought I had made the discovery. I was told, as I made
the inquiry, that there were two Barlows in the United
States Army. That satisfied me at once. I concluded, as
a matter of course, that it was the other fellow I was go-
ing to meet ; that Clarkson Potter had invited me to dine
with the living Barlow and not with the dead one. Bar-
low had a similar reflection about the Gordon he was to
dine with. He supposed that I was the other Gordon.
We met at Clarkson Potter's table. I sat just opposite to
Barlow ; and in the lull of the conversation I asked him,
" General, are you related to the Barlow who was killed
at Gettysburg?" He replied: "I am the man, sir."
[Laughter.] " Are you related," he asked, " to the Gordon
who killed me?" "Well," I said, "I am the man, sir."
The scene which followed beggars all description. No
language could describe that scene at Clarkson Potter's
table in Washington, fifteen years after the war was over.
Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Think of it ! What
could be stranger? There we met, both dead, each of us
presenting to the other the most absolute proof of the
resurrection of the dead.

But stranger still, perhaps, is the friendship true and
lasting begun under such auspices. What could be fur-
ther removed from the realm of probabilities than a con-
fiding friendship between combatants, which is born on
the field of blood, amidst the thunders of battle, and while
the hostile legions rush upon each other with deadly fury
and pour into each other's breasts their volleys of fire and
of leaden hail. [Applause.] Such were the circum-
stances under which was born the friendship between
Barlow and myself, and which I believe is more sincere
because of its remarkable birth, and which has strength-
ened and deepened with the passing years. For the sake
of our reunited and glorious Republic may we not hope
that similar ties will bin'd together all the soldiers of the
two armies, indeed all Americans in perpetual unity
until the last bugle call shall have summoned us to the
eternal camping grounds beyond the stars? [Applause.]

Another incident of an entirely different character may


be worth relating, as illustrating the peculiarities and
eccentricities of a prominent Confederate officer.

Lieutenant-General Ewell had lost a leg in a previous
battle, and supplied its place with a wooden one. During
the progress of the battle at Gettysburg we chanced to be
riding together. The thud of a Minie ball caught my
ear, which, I supposed, had shattered his other leg. I
quickly inquired: "Are you hurt?" He as quickly re-
plied : " No, sir; but suppose that had been your leg; we
would have had the trouble of carrying you off the field,
sir. You see how much better prepared for a fight I am
than you are. It doesn't hurt to be shot in a wooden leg,
sir." [Laughter.]

This same eccentric officer, General Ewell, at another
time was riding out in front of my line, on what he called
an independent scout of his own; and he rode most too
far. A squadron of Union cavalry got after him and
chased him back. He was riding one of the most mag-
nificent animals that ever stood on four feet; and as he
came flying in, closely pursued by the Union cavalry, my
line opened fire on him and his pursuers ; but he came in
safely, and reining up to my lines, he opened fire on them
of a different kind. He asked, in his peculiarly emphatic
style, "What in the world are you snooting at me for?
Why don't you shoot at the other fellows?" They an-
swered, " General, we were shooting at the other fellows,
and you, too ; but we did not know who you were." He
replied : " Boys, that is a good excuse at this time, but
you must be more careful ; you might have killed the very
finest mare in this army." [Laughter.]

This crusty old bachelor married late in life ; married a
widow, a Mrs. Brown. Of course, after Mrs. Brown's
marriage to General Ewell, she became Mrs. Ewell, to all
the world except to him; but he always persisted in in-
troducing her as, " My wife, Mrs. Brown." [Laughter.]

The failure of the Confederate army at Gettysburg did
not lower by one hair's breadth the confidence of Lee's
men in the infallibility of that great commander. But I am
bound to admit that the simultaneous fall of Vicksburg
and the disaster at Gettysburg did set the Southern boys
to thinking, and right seriously, about the future ; but they
soon recovered and were ready to meet General Grant as


he came from his .Southwestern campaigns with the green
laurel of victory on his brow, and called us one fine
morning in May, 1864, from our long winter's sleep on
the historic banks of the Rapidan. We did not know as
much about Grant then as we found out after a while,
but we had heard of him. We had heard a good deal
about Grant. Among other things, we had heard of that
U. S. in his name which some Union prophet, without
asking our advice about it, had changed from a simple
" U. S." into those disagreeable words, " Unconditional
Surrender." We could not see Grant for the underbrush
in the wild wilderness, but we knew he was there. His
morning salute at times to us was prompt and warm and
unmistakable. Lee's response was equally royal in tone
and hearty in character ; but before saying anything more
about those two old comrades, Lee and Grant, who you
remember had been separated from each other a number
of years, had not seen, each other in a great while, and
they were just now coming up to meet each other in the
wilderness, and of course were saluting and cheering
each other with their big guns as they came along: be-
fore saying anything more about them I want to pause in
this story to give one or two incidents illustrative of the
life of a private in that war. My countrymen, I must be
pardoned for saying that when I recall the uncomplaining
suffering, the unbought and poorly paid patriotism of
those grand men, the American volunteers, who had no
hope of personal honors, no stripes on their coats, nor
stars on their collars, who wore the knapsacks, trudged
in the mud, leaving the imprint of their feet in their own
blood on Virginia's snows when I recall those men who
stood in the forefront of the battle, fired the muskets, won
the victories, and made the generals, I would gladly write
their names in characters of blazing stars that could never
grow dim. [Applause.]

I want to illustrate the life of a private. It will be re-
membered that that little stream of which I nave spoken,
the Rapidan, which, by the way, comrades, was called a
river through courtesy it was a sort of brevet title, a
promotion from a creek to a river, on account of its long
service, probably, in both armies : it will be remembered
that that little stream was for a long time the dividing


line between these two great armies. It was so near that
the pickets of the two armies refused to fire at each other
by common consent. When they did shoot, they shot
jokes instead of rifles across the river at each other, and
where the water was shallow they waded in and met each
other in the middle and swapped Southern tobacco for
Yankee coffee ; and where the water was too deep to wade
in, they sent those articles across in little boats, loaded on
this side with Southern tobacco, and sailed across. Then
those little ships were unloaded on the opposite bank and
reloaded and sailed back with Yankee coffee for the
Johnnies. Thus those two fighting armies kept up for a
long time their friendly and international commerce. So
great was that commerce that the commanders of both
armies ordered it to stop. As a matter of course, the
privates ignored the orders, and went on trading. Gen-
eral Lee sent for me and said : " I want you to take
charge of my picket line, sir, and break up that trading."
I rode along the picket lines, and as I came suddenly
around the point of a hill, on one of my picket posts, be-
fore they dreamed I was in the neighborhood, I found an
amount of confusion such as I had never witnessed. I
asked, "What is the matter here, boys? What does all
this mean?" "Nothing at all, sir; it is all right here; we
assure you it is all right." I thought there was a good
deal of assuring about it, and said so, when a bright fel-
low, who saw I had some doubt on my brain, stepped to
the front to get his comrades out of the scrape, and he
began he was a stammering fellow and he began:
" Oh, yes, g-g-g-general ; it is all r-r-r-right ; we were just
getting r-r-r-ready, so we could present arms to you if
you should come along after a while." Of course I knew
there was not a word of truth in it, but I began to ride
away. Looking back suddenly, I saw the high weeds on
the bank of this little river shaking. I asked this fellow :
"What is the matter with the weeds, sir? They seem to
be in confusion, too?" Badly frightened now, he ex-
claimed : " Oh, g-g-g-general, there is nothing the mat-
ter with the weeds ; the weeds are all right/' I ordered :
" Break down those weeds " ; and there flat on the
ground among those weeds was at least six feet of sol-
dier, with scarcely any clothing on his person. I asked:


" Where do you belong ? " " Over yonder," he said, point-
ing to the Union army, " on the other side." " What
are you doing here, sir?" "Well," he said, ''General, I
didn't think there was any harm in my coming over here
and talking to the boys a little while." " What boys ? " I
asked. " These Johnnies," he said. I asked : " Don't
you know we are in the midst of a great war, sir?"
" Yes, General ; I know we are having a war, but we are
not fighting now." The idea of this Union boy, that be-
cause we were not at this minute shooting each other to
death, it was a proper occasion to lay aside the arms and
make social visits, one army to the other, struck me as
the most laughable kind of war I had ever heard of ; and I
could scarcely keep my face straight enough to give an
order. But I summoned all the sternness of my nature,
and said, "I will show you, sir, that this is war; I am
going to march you through the country, and put you in
prison." At that announcement my boys rushed to this
fellow's defense. They gathered around me and said,
" General, wait a minute ; let us talk about it. You say

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 8 of 38)