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CHAPTER XIX
On the 13th of August, 1862, McClellan abandoned his camp at Harrison's Landing and retired to Fortress Monroe. General Lee withdrew all his troops from Richmond but two companies of infantry left behind to protect the city in case of cavalry raids. General Jackson joined General Lee, and the battle known as the second Manassas was fought. Wilcox, Pryor, and Featherstone were again to the front, and at one time when the desperate struggle of this hard-fought battle was at its height, and the situation augured adversely to the Southern troops, it was General Pryor's privilege to suggest that several batteries should be rushed to an advantageous position and a raking fire be opened upon the enemy's flank which nothing could withstand. Within fifteen minutes the aspect of the field was changed. On the plateau occupied by the Federals stood the Henry house, celebrated in all history as the spot where Jackson's Brigade, "standing like a stone wall," had, a year before, earned the name for their commander which has become immortal.

I think it was early in September, 1862, that General Lee announced to President Davis that he proposed entering Maryland with his army. Before he could receive an answer the Southerners were crossing 174the Potomac singing "Maryland, my Maryland," and in a few days Jackson reached Frederick. "My Maryland" was earnestly invited and positively declined to rid her "shores" of "the despot's heel." The despot's hand could pay in good greenbacks for her wheat and flour and cattle, while these new fellows had only Confederate money. The governor and leading professional men were all loyal to the union. The farmers drove their herds into Pennsylvania, and in the mills the sound of the grinding was not low—it ceased altogether. The Confederates might defeat Pope and McClellan in the battle-field; the farmer proved himself master of the situation in the wheat-field.

My general was in Frederick with his brigade, and incidentally saw and heard nothing of the touching occurrence commemorated by Whittier. The Quaker poet was a romancer! I use no harsher term. I am perfectly willing Barbara Frietchie's "old gray head" should forever wear the crown he placed upon it, but I cannot brook "the blush of shame" over Stonewall Jackson's face. Blush he often did,—for he was as delicate as a woman,—but blush for shame, never! Rhodes says: "His riding through the streets gave an occasion to forge the story of Barbara Frietchie. It is a token of the intense emotion which clouds our judgment of the enemy in arms. Although Stonewall Jackson, not long before, was eager to raise the black flag, he was incapable of giving the order to fire at the window of a private house for the sole reason that there 'the old flag met his sight,' and it is equally impossible 175that a remark of old Dame Barbara, 'Spare your country's flag,' could have brought 'a blush of shame' to his cheek. Jackson was not of the cavalier order, but he had a religious and chivalrous respect for women." He goes on to state that a woman, not Barbara Frietchie, waved a flag as Jackson passed to which he paid no attention. Also, that when he had passed through Middletown, two pretty girls had waved union flags in his face. "He bowed and raised his hat, and turning with his quiet smile to his staff, said: 'We evidently have no friends in this town.'"

On September 15 the battle-line, with my husband's division (Longstreet's), was drawn up in front of Sharpsburg (or Antietam), and again Pryor, Wilcox, and Featherstone were well to the front. My husband commanded Anderson's division at Antietam, General Anderson having been wounded. This battle is quoted, along with the battle of Seven Pines, as one of the most hotly contested of the war. Sorely pressed at one time, General Pryor despatched an orderly to General Longstreet with a request for artillery. The latter tore the margin from a newspaper and wrote: "I am sending you the guns, dear General. This is a hard fight, and we had better all die than lose it." At one time during the battle the combatants agreed upon a brief cessation, that the dead and wounded of both sides might be removed. While General Pryor waited, a Federal officer approached him.

"General," said he, "I have just detected one of my men in robbing the body of one of your soldiers. 176I have taken his booty from him, and now consign it to you."

Without examining the small bundle—tied in a handkerchief—my husband ordered it to be properly enclosed and sent to me. The handkerchief contained a gold watch, a pair of gold sleeve-links, a few pieces of silver, and a strip of paper on which was written, "Strike till the last armed foe expires," and signed "A Florida Patriot." There seemed to be no clew by which I might hope to find an inheritor for these treasures. I could only take care of them.

I brought them forth one day to interest an aged relative, whose chair was placed in a sunny window. "I think, my dear," she said, "there are pin-scratched letters on the inside of these sleeve-buttons." Sure enough, there were three initials, rudely made, but perfectly plain.

Long afterward I met a Confederate officer from Florida who had fought at Antietam.

"Did you know any one from your state, Captain, who was killed at Sharpsburg?"

"Alas! yes," he replied, and mentioned a name corresponding exactly with the scratched initials.

The parcel, with a letter from me, was sent to an address he gave me, and in due time I received a most touching letter of thanks from the mother of the dead soldier.

In August I had left my Gordon, Theo, and Mary with my dear aunt, who had been compelled to abandon her mountain home and now lived near "The Oaks" in Charlotte County. There was no safety 177any longer except in the interior, far from the railroads. Even there raiding companies of cavalry dashed through the country bringing terror and leaving a desert as far as food was concerned.

For myself, as I could not go northward with my soldiers, I could at least keep within the lines of communication, and I selected a little summer resort, "Coyners," in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the line of the railroad. There I found General Elzey,—who had fought gallantly at Bull Run and elsewhere,—with his face terribly wounded and bandaged up to his eyes. He had been sent to the rear with a physician for rest and recovery. His brilliant wife was with him; also his aid, Captain Contee, and his young bride, who had crossed the Potomac in an open boat to join him and redeem her pledge to marry him. We were joined by Mrs. A. P. Hill, General and Mrs. Wigfall and a lovely daughter who has recently given to the world an interesting story of her war recollections. The small hotel spanned a little green valley at its head, and stretching behind was a velvet strip of green, a spring and rivulet in the midst, and a mountain ridge on either side. I had a tiny cottage with windows that opened against the side of the hill (or mountain), and lying on my bed at night, the moon and stars, as they rose above me, seemed so near I could have stretched a long arm and picked them off the hill-top!

Strenuous as were the times, awful the suspense, the vexed questions of precedence, relative importance, rankled in the bosoms of the distinguished 178ladies in the hotel. One after another would come out to me: "I'd like to know who this Maryland woman is that she gives herself such airs;" or, "How much longer do you think I'll stand Dolly Morgan? Why, she treats me as though she were the Queen of Sheba." I could only reply with becoming meekness: "I'm sure I don't know! I am only a brigadier, you know—the rest of you are major-generals—I am not competent to judge."

Nature had done everything for our happiness. The climate was delicious; the valley was carpeted with moss and tender grass, and thickly gemmed with daisies and purple asters. Before sunrise the skies, like all morning skies seen between high hills, looked as if made of roses. A short climb would bring us to a spot where the evening sky and mountain would be bathed in golden glory. But oh, the anguish of anxiety, the terror, the dreams at night of battle and murder and sudden death!

My little Roger was desperately ill at this place, and for many days I despaired of his life. General Elzey's physician gave me no hope. He counselled only fortitude and resignation. The dear friend of my girlhood, George Wythe Randolph, was Secretary of War. I wrote him a letter imploring, "Send my husband to me, if but for one hour." He answered, "God knows I long to help and comfort you! but you ask the impossible." I soon knew why. My general was at the front!

Not until late—long after every guest had departed—was I able to travel with my invalid son. Upon arriving in Charlottesville, he had a relapse of 179typhoid fever and was ill unto death for many weeks. Meanwhile his father was ordered to the vicinity of Suffolk to collect forage and provisions from counties near the Federal lines.

The enemy destined to conquer us at last—the "ravenous, hunger-starved wolf"—already menaced us. General Longstreet had learned that corn and bacon were stored in the northeastern counties of North Carolina, and he sent two companies of cavalry on a foraging expedition to the region around Suffolk.

"The Confederate lines," says a historian, "extended only to the Blackwater River on the east, where a body of Confederate troops was stationed to keep the enemy in check." That body was commanded by General Pryor, now in front of a large Federal force to keep it in check while the wagon trains sent off corn and bacon for Lee's army. This was accomplished by sleepless vigilance on the part of the Confederate general. The Federal forces made frequent sallies from Suffolk, but were always driven back with loss. It is amusing to read of the calmness with which his commanding officers ordered him to accomplish great things with his small force.

"I cannot," says General Colston, "forward your requisition for two regiments of infantry and one of cavalry: it is almost useless to make such requisitions, for they remain unanswered. You must use every possible means to deceive the enemy as to your strength, and you must hold the line of the Blackwater to the last extremity." 180 General French writes: "If I had any way to increase your forces, I should do so, but I have to bow to higher authority and the necessities of the service. But you must annoy the villains all you can, and make them uncomfortable. Give them no rest. Ambush them at every turn."

General Pryor did not dream I would come to his camp at Blackwater. He supposed I would find quarters among my friends, but I had now no home. Our venerable father had sent his family to the interior after the battles around Richmond, had given up his church in Petersburg, and, commending the women, old men, and children to the care of a successor, had entered the army as chaplain, "where," as he said, "I can follow my own church members and comfort them in sickness, if I can do no more."

As soon as the position of our brigade was made known to me, I drew forth the box containing the camp outfit, packed a trunk or two, and took the cars for the Blackwater. The terminus of the railroad was only a few miles from our camp. The Confederate train could go no farther because of the enemy. The day's journey was long, for the passenger car attached to the transportation train was dependent upon the movements of the latter. The few passengers who had set forth with me in the morning had left at various wayside stations, and I was now alone. I had no idea where we should sleep that night. I thought I would manage it somehow—somewhere.

We arrived at twilight at the end of our journey. When I left the car, my little boys gathered around 181me. There was a small wooden building near, which served for waiting-room and post-office. The only dwelling in sight was another small house, surrounded by a few bare trees. My first impression was that I had never before seen such an expanse of gray sky. The face of the earth was a dead, bare level, as far as the eye could reach; and much, very much, of it lay under water. I was in the region of swamps, stretching on and on until they culminated in the one great "Dismal Swamp" of the country. No sounds were to be heard, no hum of industry or lowing of cattle, but a mighty concert rose from thousands, nay millions, of frogs.

"Now," thought I, "here is really a fine opportunity to be 'jolly'! Mark Tapley's swamps couldn't surpass these." But all the railroad folk were departing, and the postmaster was preparing to lock his door and leave also. I liked the looks of the little man, and ventured:—

"Can you tell me, sir, where I can get lodging to-night? I am Mrs. Pryor—the general's wife, and to-morrow he will take care of me."

My little man did not belie his looks. He took me in his own house, and next day my general, at his invitation, made the house his headquarters.

My stay on the Blackwater was most interesting, but I cannot repeat the story here. Suffice it to say that our safety so near the enemy's lines—he was just across the Blackwater—was purchased by eternal vigilance.

Towards the last of January we had a season of warm, humid weather. Apparently the winter was 182over; the grass was springing on the swamp, green and luxurious, and the willows swelling into bud. There were no singing birds on the Blackwater as early as January 28, but the frogs were mightily exercised upon the coming of spring, and their nightly concerts took on a jubilant note.

One day I had a few moments' conversation with my husband about army affairs, and he remarked that our Southern soldiers were always restless unless they were in action. "They never can stand still in battle," he said; "they are willing to yell and charge the most desperate positions, but if they can't move forward, they must move backward. Stand still they cannot."

I thought I could perceive symptoms of restlessness on the part of their commander. Often in the middle of the night he would summon John, mount him, and send him to camp, a short distance away; and presently I would hear the tramp, tramp of the general's staff-officers, coming to hold a council of war in his bedroom. On the 28th of January he confided to me that on the next day he would make a sally in the direction of the enemy. "He is getting entirely too impudent," said he; "I'm not strong enough to drive him out of the country, but he must keep his place."

I had just received a present of coffee. This was at once roasted and ground. On the day of the march fires were kindled before dawn under the great pots used at the "hog-killing time" (an era in the household), and many gallons of coffee were prepared. This was sweetened, and when our men 183paused near the house to form the line of march, the servants and little boys passed down the line with buckets of the steaming coffee, cups, dippers, and gourds. Every soldier had a good draught of comfort and cheer. The weather had suddenly changed. The great snow-storm that fell in a few days was gathering, the skies were lowering, and the horizon was dark and threatening.

After the men had marched away, I drove to the hospital tent and put myself at the disposal of the surgeon. We inspected the store of bandages and lint, and I was intrusted with the preparation of more.

Meanwhile John, who was left behind, indemnified himself for the loss of the excitement of the hour by abusing "the nasty abolition Yankees," singing:—

"Jeff Davis is a gent'man,

An' Linkum is a fool!

Jeff Davis rides a fine white horse,

An' Linkum rides a mule," etc.

He was not the only one of the nation's wards who held the nation in contempt—root and branch, President and people. The special terms in which he loved to designate them were in common use among his own race. Some of the expressions of the great men I had known in Washington were quite as offensive and not a bit less inelegant, although framed in better English. I never approved of "calling names," for higher reasons than the demands of good taste. I had seen what comes of it, and I reproved John for teaching them to my little boys. 184 "No'm," said John, crestfallen, "I won't say nothin'; I'll just say the Yankees are mighty mean folks."

My dear general found the enemy at the "Deserted House"; and there gave them battle. He may tell his own story:—

"Carrsville, Isle of Wight, January 30, 1863.

"To Brigadier-general Colston, "Petersburg, Va.

"General: This morning at four o'clock the enemy under Major-general Peck attacked me at Kelley's store, eight miles from Suffolk. After three hours' severe fighting we repulsed them at all points and held the field. Their force is represented by prisoners to be between ten and fifteen thousand. My loss in killed and wounded will not exceed fifty—no prisoners. I regret that Colonel Poage is among the killed. We inflicted a heavy loss on the enemy.

"Respectfully,
"Roger A. Pryor,
"Brigadier-general Commanding."

On February 2 the general thus addressed his troops:—

"The brigadier-general congratulates the troops of this command on the results of the recent combat.

"The enemy endeavored under cover of night to steal an inglorious victory by surprise, but he found us prepared at every point, and despite his superior numbers, greater than your own in the proportion of five to one, he was signally repulsed and compelled to leave us in possession of the field.

"After silencing his guns and dispersing his infantry, you remained on the field from night until one o'clock, 185awaiting the renewal of the attack, but he did not again venture to encounter your terrible fire.

"When the disparity of force between the parties is considered, with the proximity of the enemy to his stronghold, and his facilities of re?nforcements by railway, the result of the action of the 30th will be accepted as a splendid illustration of your courage and good conduct."

One of the "enemy's" papers declared that our force was "three regiments of infantry, fourteen pieces of artillery, and about nine hundred cavalry!"

The temptation to "lie under a mistake" was great in those days of possible disaffection, when soldiers had to believe in their cause in order to defend it. One of the newspaper correspondents of the enemy explained why we were not again attacked after the first fight. He said: "Some may inquire why we did not march forthwith to Carrsville and attack the rebels again. The reasons are obvious. Had he went [sic] to Carrsville, Pryor would have had the advantage to cut off our retreat. The natives know every by-path and blind road through the woods and are ever ready to help the rebels to our detriment. Pryor can always cross the Blackwater on his floating bridge. It is prudent to allow an enemy to get well away from his stronghold the better to capture his guns and destroy his ammunition," etc.

Another paper declares he was heavily re?nforced at Carrsville.

Another records: "The rebels have been very bold in this neighborhood. Pryor has been in the habit of crossing the Blackwater River whenever he 186wanted to. Our attacking him this time must have been a real surprise to him. We took a large number of prisoners!"

He continued the indulgence of this habit until spring, receiving from his countrymen unstinted praise for his protection of that part of our state, and for the generous supplies he sent all winter to Lee's army.



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