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CHAPTER XXI
Early in June the two armies of Grant and Lee confronted each other at Petersburg. My dear general had bidden a silent and most sad farewell to his little family and gone forth to join his company, when my father entered with great news. "I have just met General Lee in the street." "Passing through?" I asked. "Not at all! The lines are established just here and filled with his veterans." My general soon re?ntered joyfully. He would now be on duty near us.

The next Sunday a shell fell in the Presbyterian Church opposite our house. From that moment we were shelled at intervals, and very severely. There were no soldiers in the city. Women were killed on the lower streets, and an exodus from the shelled districts commenced at once.

As soon as the enemy brought up his siege guns of heavy artillery, they opened on the city with shell without the slightest notice, or without giving opportunity for the removal of non-combatants, the sick, the wounded, or the women and children. The fire was at first directed toward the Old Market, presumably because of the railroad depot situated there, about which the soldiers might be supposed to collect. But the guns soon enlarged their operations, sweeping all the streets in the business part of the city, and then invading the residential region. 200The steeples of the churches seemed to afford targets for their fire, all of them coming in finally for a share of the compliment.

To persons unfamiliar with the infernal noise made by the screaming, ricocheting, and bursting of shells, it is impossible to convey an adequate idea of the terror and demoralization which ensued. Some families who could not leave the besieged city dug holes in the ground, five or six feet deep, covered with heavy timber banked over with earth, the entrance facing opposite the batteries from which the shells were fired. They made these bomb-proofs safe, at least, and thither the family repaired when heavy shelling commenced. General Lee seemed to recognize that no part of the city was safe, for he immediately ordered the removal of all the hospitals, under the care of Petersburg's esteemed physician, Dr. John Herbert Claiborne. There were three thousand sick and wounded, many of them too ill to be moved. Everything that could run on wheels, from a dray to a wheelbarrow, was pressed into service by the fleeing inhabitants of the town. A long, never ending line passed my door until there were no more to pass.

The spectacle fascinated my children, and they lived in the open watching it. One day my little friend Nannie with my baby, nearly as large as herself, in her arms, stood at the gate when a shell fell some distance from them. A mounted officer drew rein and accosted her. "Whose children are these?"

"This is Charles Campbell's daughter," said little 201Nannie, "and this"—indicating the baby—"is General Pryor's child."

"Run home with General Pryor's baby, little girl, away from the shells," he said, and turning as he rode off, "My love to your father. I'm coming to see him."

"Who is that man?" little Nannie inquired of a bystander.

"Why, don't you know? That's General Lee!"

We soon learned the peculiar deep boom of the one great gun which bore directly upon us. The boys named it "Long Tom." Sometimes for several weeks "Long Tom" rested or slept—and would then make up for lost time. And yet we yielded to no panic. The children seemed to understand that it would be cowardly to complain. One little girl cried out with fright at an explosion, but her aunt, Mrs. Gibson, called her and said: "My dear, you cannot make it harder for other people! If you feel very much afraid, come to me, and I will take you in my arms, but you mustn't cry."

Charles Campbell, the historian, lived near us, at the Anderson Seminary. He cleared out the large coal cellar, which was fortunately dry, spread rugs on the floor, and furnished it with lounges and chairs. There we took refuge in utter darkness when the firing was unbearable. My next-door neighbor, Mr. Thomas Branch, piled bags of sand around his house and thus made it bomb-proof. One day a shell struck one of my chimneys and buried itself, hissing, at the front door. Away we went to Mr. Campbell's 202bomb-proof cellar, and there we remained until the paroxysmal shelling ceased.

One night, after a long, hot day, we were so tired we slept soundly. I was awakened by Eliza Page, standing trembling beside me. She pulled me out of bed and hurriedly turned to throw blankets around the children. The furies were let loose! The house was shaking with the concussion from the heavy guns. We were in the street, on our way to our bomb-proof cellar, when a shell burst not more than twenty-five feet before us. Fire and fragments rose like a fountain in the air and fell in a shower around us. Not one of my little family was hurt—and strange to say, the children were not terrified!

Another time a shell fell in our own yard and buried itself in the earth. My baby was not far away in her nurse's arms. The little creature was fascinated by the shells. The first word she ever uttered was an attempt to imitate them. "Yonder comes that bird with the broken wing," the servants would say. The shells made a fluttering sound as they traversed the air, descending with a frightful hiss. When they exploded in mid-air, a puff of smoke, white as an angel's wing, would drift away, and the particles would patter down like hail. At night the track of the shell and its explosion were precisely similar to our Fourth of July rockets, except that they were fired, not upward, but in a slanting direction,—not aimed at the stars, but aimed at us! I never felt afraid of them! I was brought up to believe in predestination. Courage, after all, is much a matter of nerves. My neighbors, Mr. and 203Mrs. Gibson, Mrs. Meade, and Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, agreed with me, and we calmly elected to remain in town. There was no place of safety accessible to us. Mr. Branch removed his family, and, as far as I knew, none other of my friends remained throughout the summer.

Not far from our own door ran a sunken street, with the hill, through which it was cut, rising each side of it. Into this hill the negroes burrowed, hollowing out a small space, where they sat all day on mats, knitting, singing, and selling small cakes made of sorghum and flour, and little round meat pies.

The antiphonal songs, with their weird melody, still linger in my memory. At night above the dull roar of the guns, the keen hiss of the shells as they fell, the rattle and rumble of the army wagons, a strong voice from the colony of hillside huts would ring out:—
    "My brederin do-o-n't be weary,
    De angel brought de tidin's down.
    Do-o-n't be weary
    For we're gwine home!
    "I want to go to heaven!
(Answer)     Yas, my Lawd!
    I want to see my Jesus!
(Answer)     Yas, my Lawd!
(Chorus)     My brederin do-o-n't be weary,
    De angel brought de tidin's down.
    Do-o-n't be weary
    For we're gwine home."

The sorghum cakes were made to perfection in our own kitchen, but the meat pies were fascinating. 204I might have been tempted to invest in them but for a slight circumstance. I saw a dead mule lying on the common, and out of its side had been cut a very neat, square chunk of flesh!

With all our starvation we never ate rats, mice, or mule meat. We managed to exist on peas, bread, and sorghum. We could buy a little milk, and we mixed it with a drink made from roasted and ground corn. The latter, in the grain, was scarce. Mr. Campbell's children picked up the grains wherever the army horses were fed, washed, dried, and pounded them for food.

My little boys never complained, but Theo, who had insisted upon returning to me from his uncle's safe home in the country, said one day: "Mamma, I have a queer feeling in my stomach! Oh, no! it doesn't ache the least bit, but it feels like a nutmeg grater."

Poor little laddie! His machinery needed oiling. And pretty soon his small brother fell ill with fever. My blessed Dr. Withers obtained a permit for me to get a pint of soup every day from the hospital, and one day there was a joyful discovery. In the soup was a drumstick of chicken!

"I cert'nly hope I'll not get well," the little man shocked me by saying.

"Oh, is it as bad as that?" I sighed.

"Why," he replied, "my soup will be stopped if I get better!"

Just at this juncture, when things were as bad as could be, my husband brought home to tea the Hon. Pierre Soulé, General D. H. Hill, and General Longstreet. 205I had bread and a little tea, the latter served in a yellow pitcher without a handle. Mrs. Meade, hearing of my necessity, sent me a small piece of bacon. I had known Mr. Soulé in Washington society—of all men the most fastidious, most polished. When we assembled around the table, I lifted my hot pitcher by means of a napkin, and offered my tea, pure and simple, allowing the guests to use their discretion in regard to a spoonful or two of dark brown sugar.

"This is a great luxury, madam," said Mr. Soulé, with one of his gracious bows, "a good cup of tea."

We talked that night of all that was going wrong with our country, of the good men who were constantly relieved of their commands, of all the mistakes we were making.

"Mistakes!" said General Hill, bringing his clenched fist down upon the table, "I could forgive mistakes! I cannot forgive lies! I could get along if we could only, only ever learn the truth, the real truth." But he was very personal and used much stronger words than these.

The pictures my general had brought from Europe had been sent early from Washington to Petersburg, and I had opened one of the boxes which contained a large etching of Michelangelo's "Last Judgment." General Longstreet stood long before this picture, as it hung in our living room. Turning to Mr. Soulé and General Hill he exclaimed: "Oh, what does it all signify? Here is the end for every one of us!"—the end of all the 206strife, the bloodshed, the bitterness—the final victory or defeat.

They talked and talked, these veterans and the charming, accomplished diplomat, until one of them inquired the hour. I raised a curtain.

"Gentlemen," I said, "the sun is rising. You must now breakfast with us." They declined. They had supped!

In the terrible fight at Port Walthall near Petersburg, my husband rendered essential service. Among the few papers I preserved in a secret drawer of the only trunk I saved, were two, one signed Bushrod Johnson, the other D. H. Hill. The latter says: "The victory at Walthall Junction was greatly due to General Roger A. Pryor. But for him it is probable we might have been surprised and defeated." The other from General Johnson runs at length: "At the most critical juncture General Roger A. Pryor rendered me most valuable service, displaying great zeal, energy, and gallantry in reconnoitring the positions of the enemy, arranging my line of battle, and rendering successful the operations and movements of the conflict." At General Johnson's request my husband served with him during the midsummer. Such letters I have in lieu of medal or ribbon,—a part only of much of similar nature; but less was given to many a man who as fully deserved recognition.

Having been in active service in all the events around Petersburg, my husband was now requested by General Lee to take with him a small squad 207of men, and learn something of the movements of the enemy.

"Grant knows all about me," he said, "and I know too little about Grant. You were a school-boy here, General, and have hunted in all the by-paths around Petersburg. Knowing the country better than any of us, you are the best man for this important duty."

Accordingly, armed with a pass from General Lee, my husband set forth on his perilous scouting expeditions, sometimes being absent a week at a time. During these scouting trips he had had adventures, narrow escapes, and also some opportunities for gratifying, what has ever been the controlling principle of his nature, the desire to help the unfortunate. Once he brought me early in the morning three or four prisoners under guard, and as he passed me on his way to snatch an hour's sleep, he calmly ordered, "Be sure to feed them well."

I find in an unpublished diary of Charles Campbell, the historian, this item: "I met Mrs. Pryor on her way to the commissary, with a small tin pail in her hand. She said she was going for her daily ration of meal." This "daily ration" for which I paid three dollars was all I had, except beans and sorghum, and John openly rebelled when ordered to serve it in loaves to my prisoners. However, he was overruled, and with perfect good humor my little boys acquiesced, gave up their own breakfast, and served the prisoners.

No farmer dared venture within the lines—no fish were in the streams, no game in the woods 208around the town. The cannonading had driven them away. There was no longer a market in Petersburg. I once, under shell fire, visited the Old Market. At the end of a table upon which cakes and jugs of sorghum molasses were exhibited, an aged negro offered a frozen cabbage!

The famine moved on apace, but its twin sister, fever, rarely visited us. Never had Petersburg been so healthy. Every particle of animal or vegetable food was consumed, and the streets were clean. Flocks of pigeons would follow the children who were eating bread or crackers. Finally the pigeons vanished, having been themselves eaten. Rats and mice disappeared. The poor cats staggered about the streets, and began to die of hunger. At times meal was the only article attainable, except by the rich. An ounce of meat daily was considered an abundant ration for each member of the family. To keep food of any kind was impossible—cows, pigs, bacon, flour, everything was stolen, and even sitting hens were taken from the nest.

In the presence of such facts as these General Lee was able to report that nearly every regiment in his army had re?nlisted—and for the war! And very soon he also reported that the army was out of meat and had but one day's rations of bread! One of our papers copied the following from the Mobile Advertiser:—

General Robert E. Lee in 1861.

"In General Lee's tent meat is eaten but twice a week, the general not allowing it oftener, because he believes indulgence in meat to be criminal in the present straitened condition of the country. His ordinary dinner consists 209of a head of cabbage boiled in salt water and a pone of corn bread. Having invited a number of gentlemen to dine with him, General Lee, in a fit of extravagance, ordered a sumptuous repast of bacon and cabbage. The dinner was served, and behold, a great sea of cabbage and a small island of bacon, or 'middling,' about four inches long and two inches across. The guests, with commendable politeness, unanimously declined the bacon, and it remained in the dish untouched. Next day General Lee, remembering the delicate titbit which had been so providentially preserved, ordered his servant to bring that 'middling.' The man hesitated, scratched his head, and finally owned up:—

"'Marse Robert,—de fac' is,—dat ar middlin' was borrowed middlin'. We-all didn' have no middlin'. I done paid it back to de place whar I got it fum.'

"General Lee heaved a sigh of disappointment, and pitched into the cabbage."

Early in the autumn flour sold for $1500 a barrel, bacon $20 a pound, beef ditto, a chicken could be bought for $50, shad $5.50 a pair—the head of a bullock, horns and all, could be purchased, as a favor, from the commissary for $5. Groceries soared out of sight. I once counted in a soldier's ration eight grains of coffee! Little by little I drew from the belt of gold I wore around my waist, receiving towards the last one hundred dollars for one dollar in gold. These were anxious times, difficult times—but they were not the worst times! We still had hope. Any day, any hour might bring us victory and consequently relief. We had the blessed boon of comradeship. Una et commune periclum, una salus! Noble spirits were all 210around us, strong in faith and hope. Discouraging words were never uttered when we talked together.

My neighbor, Mrs. Meade and her daughters, were delightful friends, cheerful always. Soldiers were not allowed to wander about the streets, but one day I saw Mary Meade pause at her gate, just across the narrow street, and speak to one of them. "Do you know what he was asking me?" she ran over to say. "Isn't it too funny? A soldier with his gun on his shoulder wanted to know if we kept a dog, and if he could safely take a drink from the well!" A number of Englishmen hung about our camps near the close of the war. They were very agreeable, and while with us intensely Southern. I delighted in one who had hired rooms in Mrs. Meade's "office" opposite. He was so ardent a secessionist we honored him with the usual Southern title of "Colonel." He came over one morning in great indignation: "Oh, I say, it's a bit beastly of General Grant to frighten Mrs. Meade! It's a jolly shame to fire big shells into a lady's garden."

"What would you do, Colonel, if your chimney should be knocked off as mine was last week?"

"Well,"—thoughtfully,—"I guess I'd toddle."

The time came when I felt that I could no longer endure the strain of being perpetually under fire, and to my great relief, my brother-in-law, Robert McIlwaine, removed his family to North Carolina, and placed Cottage Farm, three miles distant from the city, at my disposal. He had left a piano and some furniture in the house, and was glad to have me live in it. 211 I had been in this refuge only a few days, happy in the blessed respite from danger, when I learned that General Lee had established his headquarters a short distance from us.

The whole face of the earth seemed to change immediately. Army wagons crawled unceasingly in a fog of dust along the highroad, just in front of our gate. All was stir and life in the rear, where there was another country road, and a short road connecting the two passed immediately by the well near our house. This, too, was constantly travelled; the whir of the well-wheel never seemed to pause, day or night. We soon had pleasant visitors, General A. P. Hill, Colonel William Pegram, General Walker, General Wilcox, and others. General Wilcox, an old friend and comrade, craved permission to make his headquarters on the green lawn in the rear of the house, and my husband rejoiced at his presence and protection for our little family.

In less than twenty-four hours I found myself in the centre of a camp. The white tents of General Wilcox's staff-officers were stretched close to the door. "We are here for eight years—not a day less," said my father, and he fully believed it. This being the case, we brought all our boxes from town, unpacked the library and set it up on shelves, unpacked and hung our pictures. I hung the "Madonna della Seggiola" over the mantel in the parlor and Guido's "Aurora" over the piano. There was a baby house in one of the boxes and a trunk of evening dresses at which I did not even glance, but stored in the cellar. Everything looked 212so cosey and homelike, we were happier than we had been in a long time. That my infant should not starve, I bought a little cow, Rose, from a small planter in the neighborhood, for a liberal sum in gold from my belt. "We mus' all help one another these times," he observed complacently. Rose was a great treasure. My general's horse, Jubal Early, was required to share his rations with her—indeed, poor Jubal's allowance of corn was sometimes beaten into hominy for all of us. John at once built a shelter close to his own room for Rose, "'cause I knows soldiers! They gits up fo' day and milk yo' cow right under yo' eyelids. When we-all was in Pennsylvania, the ole Dutch farmers used to give Gen'al Lee Hail Columbia 'cause his soldiers milked their cows. But Lawd! Gen'al Lee couldn' help it! He could keep 'em from stealin' horses, but the queen of England herself couldn' stop a soldier when he hankers after milk. An' he don't need no pail, neither; he can milk in his canteen an' never spill a drop."

John and the boys were in fine spirits. They laid plans for chickens, pigeons, and pigs—none of which were realized, except the latter, which I persuaded a butcher to give me for one or two of the general's silk vests. As we were to be here "for eight years, no less," it behooved me to look after the little boys' education. School books were found for them. I knew "small Latin and less Greek," but I gravely heard them recite lessons in the former; and they never discovered the midnight darkness of my mind as to mathematics. As to the pigs, I had 213almost obtained my own consent to convert them into sausages when I was spared the pain of signing their death warrant by their running away!

I knew nothing of the strong line of fortifications which General Grant was building at the back of the farm, fortifications strengthened by forts at short intervals. Our own line—visible from the garden—had fewer forts, two of which, Fort Gregg and Battery 45, protected our immediate neighborhood. These forts occasionally answered a challenge, but there was no attempt at a sally on either side.

The most painful circumstance connected with our position was the picket firing at night, incessant, like the dropping of hail, and harrowing from the apprehension that many a man fell from the fire of a picket. But, perhaps to reassure me, Captain Lindsay and Captain Clover, of General Wilcox's staff, declared that "pickets have a good time. They fire, yes, for that is their business; but while they load for the next volley, one will call out, 'Hello, Reb,' be answered, 'Hello, Yank,' and little parcels of coffee are thrown across in exchange for a plug of tobacco." After accepting this fiction I could have made myself easy, but for my constant anxiety about the safety of my dear general. He was now employed day and night, often in peril, gleaning from every possible source information for General Lee. While absent on one of these scouting trips, he once met a lady who, with her children, was vainly trying to pass through the lines that she might return to her home at the North. Two years ago he received the following pleasant letter:— 214

"Representative Hall,
"29th Session
"Nebraska Legislature.

"Lincoln, 3/19th, 1907.

"My dear Judge Pryor,

"I cannot resist the desire I have to write you concerning an incident of the war, in which you played such a noble and splendid part. You may have forgotten Mrs. Mary C. Burgess, whom, with three little children, you escorted with much personal risk through from the Confederate picket line to the union line. You took two scouts. Each took a child on his horse, Mrs. Burgess walking. You stopped in a ravine and told Mrs. Burgess to go into the open field to the right where she would see a man on a gray horse to the left, she to signal this man, who would command her to come to him. She did so, and then came back after the children. You bade Mrs. Burgess good-by. She took the children and went again to the man on horseback. He took her to General Meade's headquarters, where she got orders to go to City Point, where she was detained two weeks, General Grant being absent, and she could go no farther without General Grant's orders. You will remember how Mrs. Burgess was sent to Mrs. Cumming's house with an escort of cavalry and infantry with a flag of truce. They were suspicious of the attention paid Mrs. Burgess, and at first were inclined to treat her as a spy. But after many hardships Mrs. Burgess finally reached New York and friends. Mrs. Burgess is my mother-in-law; is living with me; is the same dignified, cultivated lady whom you may remember. She is now in her seventy-fourth year. The splendid acts of kindness shown by you to her and the three children no doubt saved their lives. Mother Burgess sits here and wants you to know you occupy a lifelong place in her memory. For myself and all the family, I 215wish to say to you, Judge Pryor, that the English language does not contain words to express our admiration for your bravery, and our thankfulness to you for protecting the lone woman and children and the magnificent chivalry that prompted you like a true knight, which you are, to go to their rescue. I hope to have the honor and pleasure of seeing you and shaking your hand. With kindest of personal regard to you and all dear to you, I beg to remain,

"Yours sincerely,
"H. C. M. Burgess,
"1568 South 20th St.
"Lincoln, Neb."


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