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CHAPTER XXIII
In the colony escaped from the shells and huddled together around General Lee were two very humble poor women who often visited me. One of them was the proud owner of a cow, "Morning-Glory," which she contrived to feed from the refuse of the camp kitchens, receiving in return a small quantity of milk, to be sold at prices beyond belief. I never saw Morning-Glory, but I often heard her friendly echo to the lowing of my little Rose, morning and evening. Being interpreted, it might have been found to convey an expression of surprise that either was still alive, so slender was their allowance of food.

One day I espied, coming down the dusty road, the limp, sunbonneted figure of Morning-Glory's mistress. She sank upon the nearest chair, pushed back her calico bonnet, and revealed a face blurred with tears and hair dishevelled beyond the ordinary.

"Good morning, Mrs. Jones! Come to the fire! It's a cold morning."

"No'm, I ain't cole! It's—it's" (sobbing)—"it's Mornin'-Glory!"

"Not sick? If she is, I'll—"

"No'm, Mornin'-Glory ain't never goin' to be sick no mo'."

"Oh, Mrs. Jones! Not dead!"

"Them pickets kep' me awake all las' night, an' I 232got up in the night an' went out to see how Mornin'-Glory was gettin' on, an' she—she—she look at me jus' the same! An' I slep' soun' till after sun-up, and when I got my pail an' went out to milk her—thar was her horns an hufs!"

The poor woman broke down completely in telling me the ghastly story. "Oh, how wicked! How was it possible to take her off and nobody hear?" I exclaimed in great wrath.

"I don't know, Mis' Pryor, nothin' but what I tells you. Talk to me 'bout Yankees! Soldiers is soldiers, an' when you say that, you jus' as well say devils is devils."

My other poor neighbor had long been a pensioner on my father. She was a forlorn widow with many children, hopeless and helpless. My father was in despair when she turned up "to git away from the shellin'." She found a small untenanted house near us and set up an establishment which was supported altogether by boarding an occasional soldier on sick leave, and taking his rations as her pay. Like Mrs. Jones, she was a frequent visitor to my fireside. One morning, after some unusual demonstrations of coy shyness, she blurted out: "I knows fo' I begin what you goin' to say! You goin' to tell me Ma'y Ann is a fool, an' I won't say you ain't in the rights of it."

"Well, what is Mary Ann's folly? I thought she had grown up to be a sensible girl."

"Sensible! Ma'y Ann! Them pretty gals is never sensible! No'm. Melissy Jane is the sensible one o' my chillun. I tole Ma'y Ann she didn't have 233nothin' fitten to be ma'ied in, an' she up an' say she know Mis' Pryor ain' goin' to let one o' her pa's chu'ch people git ma'ied in rags."

"I certainly will not, Mrs. Davis! Mary Ann, I suppose, is to marry the soldier you've been taking care of. Tell her she may look to me for a wedding-dress. When is it to be?"

"Just as Dr. Pryor says—to-morrow if convenient."

I immediately overhauled the bundle of Washington finery and found a lavender Pina, or "pineapple" muslin, not yet prepared for sale. This was a delicate gown, trimmed with lavender silk, and with angel sleeves lined with white silk. This I sent to the prospective bride—considering her needs and station, a most unsuitable wedding garment, but all I had! I managed to make a contribution to the wedding supper, a large pumpkin I extorted from John, who had "found" it. Melissy Jane, homely enough to be brilliantly "sensible," appeared to take charge of the present,—the most slatternly, unlovely, and altogether unpromising of the poor white class I had ever seen; and my father, in view of the great good fortune coming to the forlorn family in the acquisition of an able-bodied, whole-hearted Confederate soldier, made no delay in performing the marriage ceremony. About a week afterward Mrs. Davis, limper than ever, more depressed than ever, reappeared.

"I hope nobody's sick?" I inquired.

"No'm, the chilluns is as peart as common. Ma'y Ann don't seem no ways encouraged. 'Pears like she's onreconciled." 234 "Why, what ails poor Mary Ann?"

"Yas'm—he's lef' her! Jus' took hisself off and never say nuthin'. We-all don't even know what company owns him."

"Mrs. Davis!" I exclaimed, in great indignation, "this is not to be tolerated. That man is to be found and made to do his duty. I can manage it!"

"I don't know as I keers to ketch 'im," sighed the poor woman. "Ef you capters them men erginst ther will, they'll git away ergin—sho! Let 'im go long! He ain't paid me a cent or a ration of meat an' meal sence he was ma'ied. Anyhow," she proudly added, "Ma'y Ann is ma'ied! Folks can't fling it up to 'er now as she's a ole maid,"—which proves that maternal ambitions are peculiar to no condition of life.

Looking back, and living over again these stern times, it seems to me little short of a miracle that we actually did exist upon the slender portion of food allotted us. We could rarely see, from one day to another, just how we were to be fed. "Give us this day our daily bread"—this petition was our sole reliance. And as surely as the day would come,

"He that doth the ravens feed,

Yea, providently caters for the sparrow,"

would prove to us that we were of more value in His sight than many sparrows.

General Lee passed my door every Sunday morning on his way to a little wooden chapel 235nearer his quarters than St. Paul's Church. I have a picture of him in my memory, in his faded gray overcoat and slouch hat, bending his head before the sleet on stormy mornings. Sometimes his cousin, Mrs. Banister, could find herself warranted by circumstances to invite him to dine with her. Once she received from a country friend a present of a turkey, and General Lee consented to share it with her. She helped him at dinner to a moderate portion, for there was only one turkey—like Charles Lamb's hare—and many friends! Mrs. Banister observed the general laying on one side of his plate part of his share of the turkey, and she regretted his loss of appetite. "Madam," he explained, "Colonel Taylor is not well, and I should be glad to be permitted to take this to him."

After an unusually mild season, John bethought himself of the fishes in the pond and streams, but not a fishhook was for sale in Richmond or Petersburg. He contrived, out of a cunning arrangement of pins, to make hooks, and sallied forth with my boys. But the water was too cold, or the fish had been driven down-stream by the firing. The usual resource of the sportsman with an empty creel—a visit to the fishmonger—was quite out of the question. There was no fishmonger any more.

Under these circumstances you may imagine my sensation at receiving the following note:—

"My dear Mrs. Pryor: General Lee has been honored by a visit from the Hon. Thomas Connolly, Irish M.P. from Donegal. 236 "He ventures to request you will have the kindness to give Mr. Connolly a room in your cottage, if this can be done without inconvenience to yourself."

Certainly I could give Mr. Connolly a room; but just as certainly I could not feed him! The messenger who brought me the note hastily reassured me. He had been instructed to say that Mr. Connolly would mess with General Lee. I turned Mr. Connolly's room over to John, who soon became devoted to his service. The M.P. proved a most agreeable guest, a fine-looking Irish gentleman with an irresistibly humorous, cheery fund of talk. He often dropped in at our biscuit toasting, and assured us that we were better provided than the commander-in-chief.

"You should have seen 'Uncle Robert's' dinner to-day, madam! He had two biscuits, and he gave me one."

Another time Mr. Connolly was in high feather.

"We had a glorious dinner to-day! Somebody sent 'Uncle Robert' a box of sardines."

General Lee, however, was not forgotten. On fine mornings quite a procession of little negroes, in every phase of raggedness, used to pass my door, each one bearing a present from the farmers' wives of buttermilk in a tin pail for General Lee. The army was threatened with scurvy, and buttermilk, hominy, and every vegetable that could be obtained was sent to the hospital.

Mr. Connolly interested himself in my boys' Latin studies. 237 "I am going home," he said, "and tell the English women what I have seen here: two boys reading C?sar while the shells are thundering, and their mother looking on without fear."

"I am too busy keeping the wolf from my door," I told him, "to concern myself with the thunderbolts."

The wolf was no longer at the door! He had entered and had taken up his abode at the fireside. Besides what I could earn with my needle, I had only my father's army ration to rely upon. My faithful John foraged right and left, and I had reason to doubt the wisdom of inquiring too closely as to the source of an occasional half-dozen eggs or small bag of corn. This last he would pound on a wooden block for hominy. Meal was greatly prized for the reason that wholesomer bread could be made of it than of wheaten flour,—meal was no longer procurable, but we were never altogether without flour. As I have said, we might occasionally purchase for five dollars the head of a bullock from the commissary, every other part of the animal being available for army rations. By self-denial on our own part we fondly hoped we could support our army and at last win our cause. We were not, at the time, fully aware of the true state of things in the army. Our men were so depleted from starvation that the most trifling wound would end fatally. Gangrene would supervene, and then nothing could be done to prevent death. Long before this time, at Vicksburg, Admiral Porter found that many a dead soldier's haversack yielded nothing but a handful of parched 238corn. We were now enduring a sterner siege. The month of January brought us sleet and storm. Our famine grew sterner every day. Seasons of bitter cold weather would find us without wood to burn, and we had no other fuel. I commenced cutting down the choice fruit trees in the grounds,—and General Wilcox managed to send me a load of rails from a fence, hitherto spared by the soldiers. Poor little Rose could yield only one cupful of milk, so small was her ration; but we never thought of turning the faithful animal into beef. The officers in my yard spared her something every day from the food of their horses.

The days were so dark and cheerless, the news from the armies at a distance so discouraging, it was hard to preserve a cheerful demeanor for the sake of the family. And now began the alarming tidings, every morning, of the desertions during the night. General Wilcox wondered how long his brigade would hold together at the rate of fifty desertions every twenty-four hours!

The common soldier had enlisted, not to establish the right of secession, not for love of the slave,—he had no slaves,—but simply to resist the invasion of the South by the North, simply to prevent subjugation. The soldier of the rank and file was not always intellectual or cultivated. He cared little for politics, less for slavery. He did care, however, for his own soil, his own little farm, his own humble home, and he was willing to fight to drive the invader from it. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not stimulate him in the least. The negro, 239free or slave, was of no consequence to him. His quarrel was a sectional one, and he fought for his section.

In any war the masses rarely trouble themselves about the merits of the quarrel. Their pugnacity and courage are aroused and stimulated by the enthusiasm of their comrades or by their own personal wrongs and perils.

Now, in January, 1865, the common soldier perceived that the cause was lost. He could read its doom in the famine around him, in the faces of his officers, in tidings from abroad. His wife and children were suffering. His duty was now to them; so he stole away in the darkness, and in infinite danger and difficulty found his way back to his own fireside. He deserted, but not to the enemy.

But what shall we say of the soldier who remained unflinching at his post knowing the cause was lost for which he was called to meet death? Heroism can attain no loftier height than this. Very few of the intelligent men of our army had the slightest hope, at the end, of our success. Some, like Mr. William C. Rives, had none at the beginning.

One night all these things weighed more heavily than usual upon me,—the picket firing, the famine, the military executions, the dear one "sick and in prison." I sighed audibly, and my son Theodorick, who slept near me, asked the cause, adding, "Why can you not sleep, dear mother?"

"Suppose," I replied, "you repeat something for me."

He at once commenced, "Tell me not in mournful 240numbers"—and repeated the "Psalm of Life." I did not sleep; those were brave words, but not strong enough for the situation.

He paused, and presently his young voice broke the stillness:—

"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name"—going on to the end of the beautiful psalm of adoration and faith which nineteen centuries have decreed to be in very truth a Psalm of Life.

That General Lee was acutely sensible of our condition was proved by an interview with General Gordon. Before daylight, on the 2d of March, General Lee sent for General Gordon, who was with his command at a distant part of the line. Upon arriving, General Gordon was much affected by seeing General Lee standing at the mantel in his room, his head bowed on his folded arms. The room was dimly lighted by a single lamp, and a smouldering fire was dying on the hearth. The night was cold, and General Lee's room chill and cheerless.

"I have sent for you, General Gordon," said General Lee, with a dejected voice and manner, "to make known to you the condition of our affairs and consult with you as to what we had best do. I have here reports sent in from my officers to-night. I find I have under my command, of all arms, hardly forty-five thousand men. These men are starving. They are already so weakened as to be hardly efficient. Many of them have become desperate, reckless, and disorderly as they have never been before. 241 "It is difficult to control men who are suffering for food. They are breaking open mills, barns, and stores in search of it. Almost crazed from hunger, they are deserting in large numbers and going home. My horses are in equally bad condition. The supply of horses in the country is exhausted. It has come to be just as bad for me to have a horse killed as a man. I cannot remount a cavalryman whose horse dies. General Grant can mount ten thousand men in ten days and move round your flank. If he were to send me word to-morrow that I might move out unmolested, I have not enough horses to move my artillery. He is not likely to send me any such message, although he sent me word yesterday that he knew what I had for breakfast every morning. I sent him word I did not think that this could be so, for if he did he would surely send me something better.

"But now let us look at the figures. As I said, I have forty-five thousand starving men. Hancock has eighteen thousand at Winchester. To oppose him I have not a single vidette. Sheridan, with his terrible cavalry, has marched unmolested and unopposed along the James, cutting the railroads and the canal. Thomas is coming from Knoxville with thirty thousand well-equipped troops, and I have, to oppose him, not more than three thousand in all. Sherman is in North Carolina with sixty-five thousand men. So I have forty-five thousand poor fellows in bad condition opposed to one hundred and sixty thousand strong and confident men. These forces added to General Grant's make over a quarter 242of a million. To prevent them all from uniting to my destruction, and adding Johnston's and Beauregard's men, I can oppose only sixty thousand men. They are growing weaker every day. Their sufferings are terrible and exhausting. My horses are broken down and impotent. General Grant may press around our flank any day and cut off our supplies."

As a result of this conference General Lee went to Richmond to make one more effort to induce our government to treat for peace. It was on his return from an utterly fruitless errand that he said:—

"I am a soldier! It is my duty to obey orders;" and the final disastrous battles were fought.

It touches me to know now that it was after this that my beloved commander found heart to turn aside and bring me comfort. No one knew better than he all I had endeavored and endured, and my heart blesses his memory for its own sake. At this tremendous moment, when he had returned from his fruitless mission to Richmond, when the attack on Fort Steadman was impending, when his slender line was confronted by Grant's ever increasing host, stretching twenty miles, when the men were so starved, so emaciated, that the smallest wound meant death, when his own personal privations were beyond imagination, General Lee could spend half an hour for my consolation and encouragement.

Cottage Farm being on the road between headquarters and Fort Gregg,—the fortification which held General Grant in check at that point,—I saw General Lee almost daily going to this work or to Battery 45. 243 I was, as was my custom, sewing in my little parlor one morning, about the middle of March, when an orderly entered, saying:—

"General Lee wishes to make his respects to Mrs. Pryor." The general was immediately behind him. His face was lighted with the anticipation of telling me his good news. With the high-bred courtesy and kindness which always distinguished his manner, he asked kindly after my welfare, and taking my little girl in his arms, began gently to break his news to me:—

"How long, madam, was General Pryor with me before he had a furlough?"

"He never had one, I think," I answered.

"Well, did I not take good care of him until we camped here so close to you?"

"Certainly," I said, puzzled to know the drift of these preliminaries.

"I sent him home to you, I remember," he continued, "for a day or two, and you let the Yankees catch him. Now he is coming back to be with you again on parole until he is exchanged. You must take better care of him in future."

I was too much overcome to do more than stammer a few words of thanks.

Presently he added, "What are you going to say when I tell the general that in all this winter you have never once been to see me?"

"Oh, General Lee," I answered, "I had too much mercy to join in your buttermilk persecution!"

"Persecution!" he said; "such things keep us alive! Last night, when I reached my headquarters, 244I found a card on my table with a hyacinth pinned to it, and these words: 'For General Lee, with a kiss!' Now," he added, tapping his breast, "I have here my hyacinth and my card—and I mean to find my kiss!"

He was amused by the earnest eyes of my little girl, as she gazed into his face.

"They have a wonderful liking for soldiers," he said. "I knew one little girl to give up all her pretty curls willingly that she might look like Custis! 'They might cut my hair like Custis's,' she said. Custis! whose shaven head does not improve him in any eyes but hers."

His manner was the perfection of repose and simplicity. As he talked with me, I remembered that I had heard of this singular calmness. Even at Gettysburg and at the explosion of the crater he had evinced no agitation or dismay. I did not know then, as I do now, that nothing had ever approached the anguish of this moment, when he had come to say an encouraging and cheering word to me, after abandoning all hope of the success of the cause.

After talking awhile and sending a kind message to my husband, to greet him on his return, he rose, walked to the window, and looked over the fields,—the fields through which, not many days afterward, he dug his last trenches!

I was moved to say, "You only, General, can tell me if it is worth my while to put the ploughshare into those fields."

"Plant your seeds, madam," he replied; sadly 245adding, after a moment, "The doing it will be some reward."

I was answered. I thought then he had little hope. I now know he had none.

He had already, as we have seen, remonstrated against further resistance—against the useless shedding of blood. His protest had been unheeded. It remained for him now to gather his forces for endurance to the end.

Twenty days afterward his headquarters were in ashes; he had led his famished army across the Appomattox, and telling them they had done their duty and had nothing to regret, he had bidden them farewell forever.


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