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CHAPTER XX
As for myself, when my general was no longer needed on the Blackwater, the camp chest and I and the little boys took the road again. We wandered from place to place, and at last were taken as boarders, invited by a farmer, evidently without the consent of his wife. There I was, of all women made most miserable. The mistress of the house had not wanted "refugees." Everything combined to my discomfort and wretchedness, and my dear general, making me a flying visit from Richmond where he was detained on duty, counselled me to go still farther into the interior to an old watering place, the "Amelia Springs" kept by a dear Virginia woman, Mrs. Winn. I had no sooner arrived and been welcomed by a number of refugee women, and a host of children when my three little boys developed whooping-cough, and were strictly quarantined in a cottage at the extreme edge of the grounds. The little hotel and cottages were filled with agreeable women, but everything was so sad, there was no heart in any one for gayety of any kind. One evening the proprietor proposed that the ballroom be lighted and a solitary fiddler, "Bozeman,"—who was also the barber,—be installed in the musician's seat and show us what he could do. Young feet cannot resist a good waltz or polka, and the floor was soon filled 188with care-forgetting maidens—there were no men except the proprietor and the fiddler. Presently a telegram was received by the former. We huddled together under the chandelier to read it. Vicksburg had fallen! The gallant General Pemberton had been starved into submission. Surely and swiftly the coil was tightening around us. Surely and swiftly would we, too, be starved into submission.

My general was in Richmond serving on a court-martial, when the news from Gettysburg reached the city. Every house was in mourning, every heart broken. He called upon President and Mrs. Davis, and was told that the President could receive no one, but that Mrs. Davis would be glad to see him. The weather was intensely hot, and he felt he must not inflict a long visit; but when he rose to leave, Mrs. Davis, who seemed unwilling to be left alone, begged him to remain. After a few minutes the President appeared, weary, silent, and depressed. Presently a dear little boy entered in his night-robe, and kneeling beside his father's knee, repeated his evening prayer of thankfulness and of supplication for God's blessing on the country. The President laid his hand on the boy's head and fervently responded, "Amen." The scene recurred vividly, in the light of future events, to my husband's memory. With the coming day came the news of the surrender of Vicksburg,—news of which Mr. Davis had been forewarned the evening before,—and already the Angel of Death was hovering near to enfold the beautiful boy and bear him away from a world of trouble. 189 The long, sultry nights were spent by me in nursing my little boys through their distressing whooping-cough paroxysms. I was sleeping after a wakeful night, when I heard, as in a dream, my dear general's voice. I opened my heavy eyes to see him seated beside me. He earnestly entreated me to bear with patience the news he brought me—first that he must return in an hour to catch a train back to Richmond, and then that he had resigned his commission as brigadier-general and was en route to join General Fitz Lee's cavalry as a private. I have told the story of the events which culminated in this unprecedented act of a brigadier-general, and I fear I have not time or space to repeat it here. Briefly, Congress having recommended that regiments should be enlisted under officers from their own states,—in order to remedy, if possible, the disinclination to re?nlist for the war,—there was a general upheaval and change throughout the entire army during the autumn of 1862. The Second, Fifth, and Eighth Florida regiments of General Pryor's Brigade were assigned to a Florida brigadier, the Fourteenth Alabama and the Fifth North Carolina to officers from their respective states. He was, in consequence of this order of Congress, left without a brigade. He was positively assured of a permanent command. "I regretted," wrote General Lee, November 25, 1862, "at the time, the breaking up of your brigade, but you are aware that the circumstances which produced it were beyond my control. I hope it will not be long before you will be again in the field, that the 190country may derive the benefit of your zeal and activity." He had a right to expect reward for his splendid service on the Blackwater. He had never ceased all winter to remind the Secretary of War of his promise to give him a permanent command. He felt that he had earned it. He had fought many battles,—Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Mechanicsville, Gaines's Mill, Frazier's Farm, the second Manassas, and Sharpsburg, besides the fight at the Deserted House on the Blackwater.

He now wrote, April 6, 1863, an almost passionate appeal to the President himself, imploring that he be sent into active service, and not be "denied participation in the struggles that are soon to determine the destinies of my country. If I know myself," he added, "it is not the vanity of command that moves me to this appeal. A single and sincere wish to contribute somewhat to the success of our cause impels me to entreat that I may be assigned to duty. That my position is not the consequence of any default of mine you will be satisfied by the enclosed letter from General Lee." The letter was followed by new promises. It was supplemented by General Pryor's fellow-officers, who not only urged that the country should not lose his services, but designated certain regiments which might easily be assigned to him. The President wrote courteous letters in reply, always repeating assurances of esteem, etc., and continuing to give brigades to newer officers. The Richmond Examiner and other papers now began to notice the matter and present General Pryor as arrayed with the party against the administration. 191This being untrue, he was magnanimous enough to contradict. On March 17, 1863, the President wrote to him the following:—

"General Roger A. Pryor:

"General: Your gratifying letter on the 16th inst., referring to an article in the Examiner newspaper which seems to associate you with the opposition to the administration, has been received.

"I did not see the article in question, but I am glad it had led to an expression so agreeable. The good opinion of one so competent to judge of public affairs, and who has known me so long and closely, is a great support in the midst of many and arduous trials.

"Very respectfully and truly yours,
"Jefferson Davis."

Among the letters sent to Mr. Davis in General Pryor's behalf was one from General Lee and one from General Jackson, both of which unhappily remained in the President's possession, no copies having been kept by General Pryor.

As time went on, my husband waited with such patience as he could command. Finally he resigned his commission as brigadier-general and also his seat in Congress, and entered General Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry as a private soldier. His resignation was held a long time by the President, "in the hope it would be reconsidered," and repeatedly General Pryor was "assured of the President's esteem," etc. General Jackson, General Longstreet, General A. P. Hill, General D. H. Hill, General Wilcox, General George Pickett, General Beauregard, were all his 192devoted friends. Some of them had, like General Johnston and General McClellan, similar experience.

It was a bitter hour for me when my general followed me to the Amelia Springs with news that he had entered the cavalry as a private. "Stay with me and the children," I implored.

"No," he said, "I had something to do with bringing on this war. I must give myself to Virginia. She needs the help of all her sons. If there are too many brigadier-generals in the service,—it may be so,—certain it is there are not enough private soldiers."

But his hour had passed. He kissed his sleeping boys and hurried off to the stage that was to take him to the depot. There John was waiting with his horses (he never accepted anything but a soldier's ration from the government), and they were off to join Fitzhugh Lee.

The Divinity that "rules our ends, rough hew them as we may," was guiding him. I look back with gratitude to these circumstances,—then so hard to bear,—circumstances to which, I am persuaded, I owe my husband's life. Even were it otherwise, God forbid I should admit into my bosom hard thoughts of any man.

General Lee welcomed him in hearty fashion:—

"Headquarters, August 26, 1863.

"Honorable, General, or Mr.: How shall I address you? Damn it, there's no difference! Come up to see me. Whilst I regret the causes that induced you to resign your position, I am glad that the country has not lost your 193active services, and that your choice to serve her has been cast in one of my regiments.

"Very respectfully,
"Fitz Lee."

As a common soldier in the cavalry service, General Pryor was assigned the duties of his position, from not one of which did he ever excuse himself.

Having no longer a home of my own, it was decided that I should go to my people in Charlotte County. One of my sons, Theo, and two of my little daughters were already there, and there I expected to remain until the end of the war.

But repeated attempts to reach my country home resulted in failure. Marauding parties and guerillas were flying all over the country. There had been alarm at a bridge over the Staunton near "The Oaks," and the old men and boys had driven away the enemy. I positively could not venture alone.

So it was decided that I should return to my husband's old district, to Petersburg, and there find board in some private family.

I reached Petersburg in the autumn and wandered about for days seeking refuge in some household. Many of my old friends had left town. Strangers and refugees had rented the houses of some of these, while others were filled with the homeless among their own kindred. There was no room anywhere for me, and my small purse was growing so slender that I became anxious. Finally my brother-in-law offered me an overseer's house on one of his "quarters." 194The small dwelling he placed at my disposal was to be considered temporary only; some one of his town houses might soon be vacant. When I drove out to the little house, I found it hardly better than a hovel. We entered a rude, unplastered kitchen, the planks of the floor loose and wide apart, the earth beneath plainly visible. There were no windows in this smoke-blackened kitchen. A door opened into a tiny room with a fireplace, window, and out-door of its own; and a short flight of stairs led to an unplastered attic, so that the little apartment was entered by two doors and a staircase. It was already cold, but we had to beat a hasty retreat and sit outside while a negro boy made a "smudge" in the house, to dislodge the wasps that had tenanted it for many months. My brother had lent me bedding for the overseer's pine bedstead and the low trundle-bed underneath. The latter, when drawn out at night, left no room for us to stand. When that was done, we had all to go to bed. For furniture we had only two or three wooden chairs and a small table. There were no curtains, neither carpet nor rugs, and no china. There was wood at the woodpile, and a little store of meal and rice, with a small bit of bacon in the overseer's grimy closet. This was to be my winter home.

Petersburg was already virtually in a state of siege. Not a tithe of the food needed for its army of refugees could be brought to the city. Our highway, the river, was filled, except for a short distance, with Federal gunboats. The markets had long been closed. The stores of provisions had 195been exhausted, so that a grocery could offer little except a barrel or two of molasses made from the domestic sorghum sugar-cane, an acrid and unwholesome sweet used instead of sugar for drink with water or milk and for eating with bread. The little boys at once began to keep house. They valiantly attacked the woodpile, and found favor in the eyes of Mary and the man, whom I never knew as other than "Mary's husband." He and Mary were left in charge of the quarter and had a cabin near us.

I had no books, no newspapers, no means of communicating with the outside world; but I had one neighbor, Mrs. Laighton, a daughter of Winston Henry, granddaughter of Patrick Henry. She lived near me with her husband—a Northern man. Both were very cultivated, very poor, very kind. Mrs. Laighton, as Lucy Henry,—a brilliant young girl,—I had last seen at one of her mother's gay house-parties in Charlotte County. We had much in common, and her kind heart went out in love and pity for me. Her talk was a tonic to me. It stimulated me to play my part with courage, seeing I had been deemed worthy, by the God who made me, to suffer in this sublime struggle for liberty. She was as truly gifted as was ever her illustrious grandfather. To hear her was to believe, so persuasive and convincing was her eloquence.

I had not my good Eliza Page this winter. She had fallen ill. I had a stout little black girl, Julia, as my only servant; but Mary had a friend, a "corn-field hand," "Anarchy," who managed to 196help me at odd hours. Mrs. Laighton sent me every morning a print of butter as large as a silver dollar, with two or three perfect biscuits, and sometimes a bowl of persimmons or stewed dried peaches. She had a cow, and churned every day, making her biscuits of the buttermilk, which was much too precious to drink.

A great snow-storm overtook us a day or two before Christmas. My little boys kindled a roaring fire in the cold, open kitchen, roasted chestnuts, and set traps for the rabbits and "snowbirds," which never entered them. They made no murmur at the bare Christmas; they were loyal little fellows to their mother. My day had been spent in mending their garments,—making them was a privilege denied me, for I had no materials. I was not "all unhappy!" The rosy cheeks at my fireside consoled me for my privations, and something within me proudly rebelled against weakness or complaining.

The flakes were falling thickly at midnight on Christmas Eve when I suddenly became very ill. I sent out for Mary's husband and bade him gallop in to Petersburg, three miles distant, and fetch me Dr. Withers. I was dreadfully ill when he arrived, and as he stood at the foot of my bed, I said to him: "It doesn't matter much for me, Doctor! But my husband will be grateful if you keep me alive."

When I awoke from a long sleep, he was still standing at the foot of my bed where I had left him—it seemed to me ages ago! I put out my hand 197and it touched a little warm bundle beside me. God had given me a dear child!

The doctor spoke to me gravely and most kindly. "I must leave you now," he said, "and, alas! I cannot come again. There are so many, so many sick. Call all your courage to your aid. Remember the pioneer women, and all they were able to survive. This woman," indicating Anarchy, "is a field-hand, but she is a mother, and she has agreed to help you during the Christmas holidays—her own time. And now, God bless you, and good-by!"

I soon slept again, and when I awoke, the very Angel of Strength and Peace had descended and abode with me. I resolved to prove to myself that if I was called to be a great woman, I could be a great woman. Looking at me from my bedside were my two little boys. They had been taken the night before across the snow-laden fields to my brother's house, but had risen at daybreak and had "come home to take care" of me!

My little maid Julia left me Christmas morning. She said it was too lonesome, and her "mistis" always let her choose her own places. I engaged "Anarchy" at twenty-five dollars a week for all her nights. But her hands, knotted by work in the fields, were too rough to touch my babe. I was propped up on pillows and dressed her myself, sometimes fainting when the exertion was over.

I was still in my bed three weeks afterward, when one of my boys ran in, exclaiming in a frightened voice, "Oh, mamma, an old gray soldier is coming in!" 198 He stood—this old gray soldier—and looked at me, leaning on his sabre.

"Is this the reward my country gives me?" he said; and not until he spoke did I recognize my husband. Turning on his heel, he went out, and I heard him call:—

"John! John! Take those horses into town and sell them! Do not return until you do so—sell them for anything! Get a cart and bring butter, eggs, and everything you can find for Mrs. Pryor's comfort."

He had been with Fitz Lee on that dreadful tramp through the snow after Averill. He had suffered cold and hunger, had slept on the ground without shelter, sharing his blanket with John. He had used his own horses, and now if the government needed him, the government might mount him. He had no furlough, and soon reported for duty; but not before he had moved us, early in January, into town—one of my brother-in-law's houses having been vacated at the beginning of the year. John knew his master too well to construe him literally, and had reserved the fine gray, Jubal Early, for his use. That I might not again fall into the sad plight in which he had found me, he purchased three hundred dollars in gold, and instructed me to prepare a girdle to be worn all the time around my waist, concealed by my gown. The coins were quilted in; each had a separate section to itself, so that with scissors I might extract one at a time without disturbing the rest.


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