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CHAPTER XVIII
The "overt act," for which everybody looked, had been really the re?nforcement by federal troops of the fort in Charleston harbor. When Fort Sumter was reduced by Beauregard, "the fight was on." My husband, with other gentlemen, was deputed by General Beauregard to demand the surrender of the fort, and in case of refusal which he foresaw, to direct the commandant of the battery, Johnson, to open fire. When the order was delivered to the commandant, he invited my husband to fire the first shot; but this honor my husband declined, and instead suggested the venerable Edmund Ruffin, an intense secessionist, for that service. It was the prevalent impression at the time that Mr. Ruffin did "fire the first gun"; at all events he fired, to him, the last; for on hearing of Lee's surrender, Cato-like, he destroyed himself.

Fort Sumter was reduced on April 12, and Virginia was in a wild state of excitement and confusion. On May 23 Virginia ratified an ordinance of secession, and on the early morning of May 24 the federal soldiers, under the Virginian, General Winfield Scott, crossed the Potomac River and occupied Arlington Heights and the city of Alexandria. "The invasion of Virginia, the pollution of her sacred soil," as it was termed, called forth a vigorous proclamation 163from her governor and a cry of rage from her press. General Beauregard issued a fierce proclamation, tending to fire the hearts of the Virginians with indignation. "A reckless and unprincipled host," he declared, "has invaded your soil," etc. Virginia needed no such stimulus. The First, Second, and Third Virginia were immediately mustered into service, and my husband was colonel of the Third Virginia Infantry. He was ordered to Norfolk with his regiment to protect the seaboard. I was proud of his colonelship, and much exercised because he had no shoulder-straps. I undertook to embroider them myself. We had not then decided upon the star for our colonels' insignia, and I supposed he would wear the eagle like all the colonels I had ever known. No embroidery bullion was to be had, but I bought heavy bullion fringe, cut it in lengths, and made eagles, probably of some extinct species, for the like were unknown in Audubon's time, and have not since been discovered. However, they were accepted, admired, and, what is worse, worn.

My resolution was taken. I steadily withstood all the entreaties of my friends, and determined to follow my husband's regiment through the war. I did not ask his permission. I would give no trouble. I should be only a help to his sick men and his wounded. I busied myself in preparing a camp equipage—a field stove with a rotary chimney, ticks for bedding, to be filled with straw or hay or leaves, as the case might be, and a camp chest of tin utensils, strong blankets, etc. A tent could always 164be had from Major Shepard, our quartermaster. News soon came that the Third Virginia had been ordered to Smithfield. McClellan was looking toward the peninsula, and Major-general Joseph E. Johnston was keeping an eye on McClellan.

When I set forth on what my father termed my "wild-goose chase," I found the country literally alive with troops. The train on which I travelled was switched off again and again to allow them to pass. My little boys had the time of their lives, cheering the soldiers and picnicking at short intervals all day. But I had hardly reached Smithfield before the good people of the town forcibly took my camp equipage from me, stored it, and installed me in great comfort in a private house. My colonel soon left me to take his seat in the Confederate Congress along with Hon. William C. Rives and others of our old friends. I was left alone at Smithfield, not la fille du régiment, but la mère! I heard daily from all the sick men in winter quarters, and ministered to them according to my ability. The camp fascinated me. Picturesque huts were built of pine with the bark on, and in clearings here and there brilliant fires of the resinous wood were constantly burning. I knew many of the officers, and from them soon learned that the deadly foe at home was more to be dreaded than the foe in front. Smithfield was noted for its Virginia hams, its fine fish, its mullets that would leap into the fisherman's boat while he lazily enjoyed his brier-root, its great sugary "yams," as the red sweet-potato was called. It was noted as well for the excellence of its brandy. 165 My colonel issued stern orders that no intoxicating liquors were to be sold to his soldiers. Every man who went on leave to the town was inspected on his return. But drunken men gave trouble in the camp, and it was discovered that brandy was smuggled in the barrels of the muskets, and in yams, hollowed out and innocently reposing at the bottom of baskets.

Thereupon one morning Smithfield was in an uproar, negroes screaming and running about with pails to be filled, tipsy pigs staggering along the streets. A squad of soldiers had been ordered out from camp, had entered every store, and emptied the contents of every cask into the gutters. A drunken brawl had occurred in camp, and one soldier had killed another!

The soldier was arrested and imprisoned. Later the prisoner was tried and acquitted,—his own colonel argued in his defence,—and completely sobered, he made a good soldier. The prompt act of the commanding officer was salutary. There was no more trouble—no more muskets loaded with inflammable stuff, no more yams flavored with brandy.

When the colonel was attending the session of Congress, Theo, not yet ten years old, was often mounted on a barrel, in his little linen blouse, to drill the Third Virginia! He had studied military tactics, Hardee and Jomini, with his father. Lying before me as I write is his own copy of Jomini's "L'Art de la Guerre," in which he proudly wrote his name. An event of personal interest was the presentation to the colonel of a blue silken flag, made by 166the ladies of Petersburg. The party came down the river in a steamboat, and I have before my reminiscent eyes an interesting picture of my colonel, as he stood with his long hair waving in a stiff breeze, listening to the brave things the dear women's spokesman said of their devotion to him and to their country. This flag is somewhere, to-day, in that country, but not in the home of the man who had earned and owned it. It is of heavy blue silk; on one side the arms of the state of Virginia, on the other Justice with the scales. In the upper left-hand corner is the word "Williamsburg," room being left for the many other battles in store for the young colonel.

Things were going on beautifully with us when I one day received a peremptory official order to change my base—to leave Smithfield next morning before daybreak! The orderly who brought it to me looked intensely surprised when I calmly said: "Tell the colonel it is impossible! I can't get ready by to-morrow to leave."

"Madam," said the man, gravely, "it is none of my business, but when Colonel Pryor gives an order, it is wise to be a strict constructionist."

My colonel had returned suddenly; when I, in an open wagon, was on my way next morning at sunrise to the nearest depot, he and his men were en route to the peninsula. They gave McClellan battle May 5 at Williamsburg,—"Pryor and Anderson in front,"—captured four hundred unwounded prisoners, ten colors, and twelve field-pieces, slept on the field of battle, and marched off 167next morning at their convenience. My colonel personally ministered to the wounded prisoners, and General McClellan recognizes this service in his "own story." After this he was promoted, and my bristling eagles retired before the risen stars of the brigadier-general.

The news of his probable promotion reached me at the Exchange Hotel in Richmond, whither I had gone that I might be near headquarters and thus learn the earliest tidings from the peninsula. There he joined me for one day. We read with keen interest the announcement in the papers that his name had been sent in by the President for promotion. Mrs. Davis held a reception at the Spotswood Hotel on the evening following this announcement, and we availed ourselves of the opportunity to make our respects to her.

A crowd gathered before the Exchange to congratulate my husband, and learning that he had gone to the Spotswood, repaired thither, and with shouts and cheers called him out for a speech. This was very embarrassing, and he fled to a corner of the drawing-room and hid behind a screen of plants. I was standing near the President, trying to hold his attention by remarks on the weather and kindred subjects of a thrilling nature, when a voice from the street called out: "Pryor! General Pryor!" I could endure the suspense no longer, and asked tremblingly, "Is this true, Mr. President?" Mr. Davis looked at me with a benevolent smile and said, "I have no reason, madam, to doubt it, except that I saw it this morning in the papers;" and Mrs. 168Davis at once summoned the bashful colonel: "What are you doing lying there perdu behind the geraniums? Come out and take your honors."

Following fast upon the battle after which General Johnston ordered "Williamsburg" to be painted on his banner, my general fought the battle of "Fair Oaks" or "Seven Pines"—and in June the Seven Days' battle around Richmond. The story of these desperate battles has been told many times by the generals who fought them. "Pryor's Brigade" was in the front often; in the thick of the fight always. I myself saw my husband draw his sword, and give the word of command "Head of column to the right" as he entered the first of these battles.

I spent the time nursing the wounded in Kent and Paine's Hospital in Richmond, and have told elsewhere the pathetic story of my experience as hospital nurse. For the needs of that stern hour my dear general gave himself—and his wife gave herself. Every linen garment I possessed, except one change, every garment of cotton fabric, all my table-linen, all my bed-linen, even the chintz covers for furniture,—all were torn into strips and rolled for bandages for the soldiers' wounds.

When the fight was over, a gray, haggard, dust-covered soldier entered my room, and throwing himself upon the couch, gave way to the anguish of his heart—"My men! My men! They are almost all dead!"

Thousands of Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded. Richmond was saved! "I am in hopes," wrote General McClellan to his Secretary of 169War, "the enemy is as completely worn out as I am."

He was! General Lee realized that his men must have rest. My husband was allowed a few days' respite from duty. Almost without a pause he had fought the battles of Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Mechanicsville, Gaines's Mill, Frazier's Farm, and Malvern Hill. He had won his promotion early, but he had lost the soldiers he had led, the loved commander who appreciated him, had seen old schoolmates and friends fall by his side,—the dear fellow, George Loyal Gordon, who had been his best man at our wedding,—old college comrades, valued old neighbors.

Opposed to him in battle, then and after, were men who in after years avowed themselves his warm friends,—General Hancock, General Slocum, General Butterfield, General Sickles, General Fitz-John Porter, General McClellan, and General Grant. They had fought loyally under opposing banners, and from time to time, as the war went on, one and another had been defeated; but over all, and through all, their allegiance had been given to a banner that has never surrendered,—the standard of the universal brotherhood of all true men.

I cannot omit a passing tribute to the heroic fortitude and devotion of the Richmond women in the time of their greatest trial. These were the delicate, beautiful women I had so admired when I lived among them. Not once did they spare themselves, or complain, or evince weakness, or give way to despair. The city had "no language but a cry." 170Two processions unceasingly passed along the streets; one the wounded borne from the battlefield; the other the cheering men going to take their places at the front. Within the hospitals all that devotion could suggest, of unselfish service, gentle ministration, encouragement, was done by the dear women. Every house was open for the sick and wounded. Oh, but I cannot again tell it all! Sacredly, tenderly I remember, but to-day it seems so cruel, so unnecessary, so wicked! I cannot dwell upon it!

One beautiful memory is of the unfailing kindness and loyalty of the negroes. In the hospitals, in the camps, in our own houses, they faithfully sympathized with us and helped us. Not only at this time, but all during the war, they behaved admirably. The most intense secessionist I ever knew was my general's man, John. Early in the day the black man elected for himself an attitude of quiescence as to politics, and addressed himself to the present need for self-preservation.

It was "Domingo," one of the cooks of our brigade at Williamsburg, that originated the humorous description of a negro's self-appraisement and sensations in battle, so unblushingly quoted afterward by a certain "C?sar" in northern Virginia. A shell had entered the domain of pots and kettles, and created what Domingo termed a "clatteration." He at once started for the rear.

"What's de matter, Mingo?" asked a fellow-servant, "whar you gwine wid such a hurrification?"

"I gwine to git out o' trouble—dar whar I gwine! Dar's too much powder in dem big things. Dis 171chile ain't gwine bu'n hisself! An' dar's dem Minnie bullets, too, comin' frew de a'r, singin': 'Whar is you? Whar is you?' I ain't gwine stop an' tell 'em whar I is! I'se a twenty-two-hundurd-dollar nigger, an' I'se gwine tek keer o' what b'longs to marster, I is!"

A story was related by a Northern writer of an interview with a negro who had run the blockade and entered the service of a Federal officer. He was met on board a steamer, after the battle of Fort Donelson, on his way to the rear, and questioned in regard to his experience of war.

"Were you in the fight?"

"Had a little taste of it, sah."

"Stood your ground, of course."

"No, sah! I run."

"Not at the first fire?"

"Yes, sah! an' would a' run sooner ef I knowed it was a-comin'!"

"Why, that wasn't very creditable to your courage, was it?"

"Dat ain't in my line, sah,—cookin's my perfeshun."

"But have you no regard for your reputation?"

"Refutation's nothin' by de side o' life."

"But you don't consider your life worth more than other people's, do you?"

"Hit's wuth mo' to me, sah!"

"Then you must value it very highly."

"Yas, sah, I does,—mo'n all dis wuld! Mo' dan a million o' dollars, sah. What would dat be 172wuth to a man wid de bref out o' 'im? Self-perserbashun is de fust law wid me, sah!"

"But why should you act upon a different rule from other men?"

"'Cause diffunt man set diffunt value 'pon his life. Mine ain't in de market."

"Well, if all soldiers were like you, traitors might have broken up the government without resistance."

"Dat's so! Dar wouldn't 'a' been no hep fer it. But I don't put my life in de scale against no gubberment on dis yearth. No gubberment gwine pay me ef I loss mehsef."

"Well, do you think you would have been much missed if you had been killed?"

"Maybe not, sah! A daid white man ain' much use to dese yere sogers, let alone a daid niggah; but I'd a missed mehsef pow'ful, an' dat's de pint wid me."



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