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CHAPTER XXIV
The day drew near when the husband and father of our little family was to be restored to his own home and his own people. Paroled, and not yet exchanged, we could hope for a brief visit from him. John was in a great state over the possibilities of a welcoming banquet. Peas, beans, flour, sorghum molasses,—these in small quantity he might hope to command. A nourishing soup could be made of the peas, and if only he could "find" an egg, he could mix it with sorghum and bake it in an unshortened open crust for dessert. But the meat course!

Just at this critical moment a hapless duck ventured too near John's acquisitive hand while he was on one of his prowling expeditions. This he perfectly roasted and presented to me to be sacredly kept until the general's arrival. Accordingly I hid it away in a small safe with wire-netting doors, and judiciously covered it over with a cloth lest some child or visitor should be led into irresistible temptation.

We were all expectation and excitement when a lady drove up and asked for shelter, as she had been "driven in from the lines." Shelter and lodging I could give by spreading quilts on the parlor floor—but, alas, my duck! Must my precious duck be sacrificed upon the altar of hospitality? I 247peeped into the little safe to assure myself that I could manage to keep it hidden, and behold, it was gone! Not until next day, when it was placed before my husband with a triumphant flourish (our unwelcome guest had departed), did I discover that John had stolen it! "Why, there's the duck!" I exclaimed.

"'Course here's the duck!" said John, respectfully. "Ducks got plenty of sense. They knows as well as folks when to hide."

We found our released prisoner pale and thin, but devoutly thankful to be at home. Mr. Connolly and the officers around us called in the evening, keenly anxious to hear his story and heartily expressing their joy at his release. My friends in Washington had wished to send me some presents, but my husband declined them, accepting only two cans of pineapple. Mr. Connolly sent out for the "boys in the yard" and assisted me in dividing the fruit into portions, so each one should have a bit. It was served on all the saucers and butter plates we could find, and Mr. Connolly himself handed the tray around, exclaiming, "Oh, lads! it is just the best thing you ever tasted!" Then each soldier brought forth his brier-root and gathered around the traveller for his story. His story was a thrilling one—of his capture, his incarceration, his comrades; finally of the unexpected result of the efforts of his ante-bellum friends, Washington McLean and John W. Forney, for his release.

It was ascertained by these friends in Washington that he was detained as hostage for the safety of some 248union officer whom the Confederate government had threatened to put to death. This situation of affairs left General Pryor in a very dangerous position. Southern leaders were inclined to take revenge upon some prominent union soldiers in their prisons, and Stanton stood ready to take counter-revenge upon the body of "Harry Hotspur." Washington McLean, the editor and proprietor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, had met my husband while he was in Congress, and learned "to like and love him," as one expressed it. Realizing the gravity of his friend's situation, Mr. McLean, having first approached General Grant, who positively refused to consider General Pryor's release, resolved to appeal to Mr. Stanton. He found Mr. Stanton in the library of his own home, with his daughter in his arms, and the following conversation ensued:—

"This is a charming fireside picture, Mr. Secretary! I warrant that little lady cares nothing for war or the Secretary of War! She has her father, and that fills all her ambition."

"You never said a truer word, did he, pet?" pressing the curly head close to his bosom.

"Well, then, Stanton, you will understand my errand. There are curly heads down there in old Virginia weeping out their bright eyes for a father loved just as this pretty baby loves you."

"Yes, yes! Probably so," said Stanton.

"Now—there's Pryor—"

But before another word could be said, the Secretary of War pushed the child from his knee and thundered:— 249 "He shall be hanged! Damn him!"

But he had reckoned without his host when he supposed that Washington McLean would not appeal from that verdict. Armed with a letter of introduction from Horace Greeley, Mr. McLean visited Mr. Lincoln. The President remembered General Pryor's uniformly generous treatment of prisoners who had, at various times, fallen into his custody, especially his capture at Manassas of the whole camp of Federal wounded, surgeons and ambulance corps, and his prompt parole of the same. Mr. Lincoln listened attentively, and after ascertaining all the facts, issued an order directing Colonel Burke, the commander at Fort Lafayette, to "deliver Roger A. Pryor into the custody of Colonel John W. Forney, Secretary of the Senate, to be produced by him whenever required."

Armed with this order, Mr. McLean visited Fort Lafayette, where he found his friend in close confinement in the casemate with other prisoners. Mr. McLean immediately secured his release and accompanied him to Washington and to Colonel Forney's house.

As is now well known, even a presidential command did not stand in the way of Stanton's vengeance. When he learned of General Pryor's release, his rage was unbounded, and he immediately issued orders to seize the prisoner wherever found, and announced his intention of hanging him, as a response to the threats of the Southern leaders. Colonel Forney was advised of this condition of affairs, and at his request his secretary, John Russell Young, 250afterwards Minister to China, went to the offices of the various Washington newspapers and gave each journal a brief account of how General Pryor had passed through Washington that evening, and under parole had entered into the rebel lines. As a matter of fact, he was at that time in Colonel Forney's house, and remained there for two more days. Stanton, however, was made to believe that his prey had escaped him, and therefore abandoned his hunt.

At that time John Y. Beall, a Confederate officer, was confined with General Pryor, having been, it was supposed, implicated in a conspiracy to set fire to hotels and museums in New York, derail and fire railroad trains. Young Beall protested innocence, but finally he was arrested, tried by court-martial, and sentenced to be hanged. He belonged to an influential Southern family, and was held in high esteem south of Mason and Dixon's line. Some of the officials of the Confederacy served notice on Secretary of War Stanton that if Beall was hanged, they would put the rope around the necks of a number of prominent Northern soldiers who at that time were in their custody. But the stern Stanton was relentless, and he only sent back word that if the threat was carried into execution, he would hang Pryor. Mr. McLean became interested in young Beall's fate, and suggested that if General Pryor would make a personal appeal in his behalf to President Lincoln, his execution might probably be prevented. To that end, Mr. McLean telegraphed a request to Mr. Lincoln, that he accord General 251Pryor an interview, to which a favorable response was promptly returned. The next evening General Pryor, with Mr. McLean and Mr. Forney, called at the White House, and were graciously received by the President. General Pryor at once opened his intercession in behalf of Captain Beall; but although Mr. Lincoln evinced the sincerest compassion for the young man and an extreme aversion to his death, he felt constrained to yield to the assurance of General Dix, in a telegram just received, that the execution was indispensable to the security of the Northern cities. Mr. Lincoln then turned the conversation to the recent conference at Hampton Roads, the miscarriage of which he deplored with the profoundest sorrow. He said that had the Confederate government agreed to the re?stablishment of the union and the abolition of slavery, the people of the South might have been compensated for the loss of their negroes and would have been protected by a universal amnesty, but that Mr. Jefferson Davis made the recognition of the Confederacy a condition sine qua non of any negotiations. Thus, he declared, would Mr. Davis be responsible for every drop of blood that should be shed in the further prosecution of the war, a futile and wicked effusion of blood, since it was then obvious to every sane man that the Southern armies must be speedily crushed. On this topic he dwelt so warmly and at such length that General Pryor inferred that he still hoped the people of the South would reverse Mr. Davis's action, and would renew the negotiations for peace. Indeed, he declared in terms that he could 252not believe the senseless obstinacy of Mr. Davis represented the sentiment of the South. It was apparent to General Pryor that Mr. Lincoln desired him to sound leading men of the South on the subject. Accordingly, on the general's return to Richmond, he did consult with Senator Hunter and other prominent men in the Confederacy, but with one voice they assured him that nothing could be done with Mr. Davis, and that the South had only to await the imminent and inevitable catastrophe.

The inevitable catastrophe marched on apace.

On the morning of April 2 we were all up early that we might prepare and send to Dr. Claiborne's hospital certain things we had suddenly acquired. An old farmer friend of my husband had loaded a wagon with peas, potatoes, dried fruit, hominy, and a little bacon, and had sent it as a welcoming present. We had been told of the prevalence of scurvy in the hospitals, and had boiled a quantity of hominy, and also of dried fruit, to be sent with the potatoes for the relief of the sick.

My husband said to me at our early breakfast:—

"How soundly you can sleep! The cannonading was awful last night. It shook the house."

"Oh, that is only Fort Gregg," I answered. "Those guns fire incessantly. I don't consider them. You've been shut up in a casemate so long you've forgotten the smell of powder."

Our father, who happened to be with us that morning, said:—

"By the bye, Roger, I went to see General Lee, and told him you seemed to be under the impression 253that if your division moves, you should go along with it. The general said emphatically: 'That would be violation of his parole, Doctor. Your son surely knows he cannot march with the army until he is exchanged.'"

This was a great relief to me, for I had been afraid of a different construction.

After breakfast I repaired to the kitchen to see the pails filled for the hospital, and to send Alick and John on their errand.

Presently a message was brought me that I must join my husband, who had walked out to the fortification behind the garden. I found a low earthwork had been thrown up during the night still nearer our house, and on it he was standing. My husband held out his hand and drew me up on the breastwork beside him. Negroes were passing, wheeling their barrows, containing the spades they had just used. Below was a plain, and ambulances were collecting and stopping at intervals. Then a slender gray line stretched across under cover of the first earthwork and the forts. Fort Gregg and Battery 45 were belching away with all their might, answered by guns all along the line. While we gazed on all this, the wood opposite seemed alive, and out stepped a division of bluecoats—muskets shining and banners flying in the morning sun. My husband exclaimed: "My God! What a line! They are going to fight here right away. Run home and get the children in the cellar."

When I reached the little encampment behind the house, I found the greatest confusion. 254Tents were struck, and a wagon was loading with them.

Captain Glover rode up to me and conjured me to leave immediately. I reminded him of his promise not to allow me to be surprised.

"We are ourselves surprised," he said; "believe me, your life is not safe here a moment." Tapping his breast, he continued, "I bear despatches proving what I say."

I ran into the house, and with my two little children I started bareheaded up the road to town. I bade the servants remain. If things grew warm, they had the cellar, and perhaps their presence would save their own goods and mine, should the day go against us. The negroes, in any event, would be safe.

The morning was close and warm, and as we toiled up the dusty road, I regretted the loss of my hat. Presently I met a gentleman driving rapidly from town. It was my neighbor, Mr. Laighton.

He had removed his wife and little girls to a place of safety and was returning for me. He proposed, as we were now out of musket range, that I should rest with the children under the shade of a tree, and he would return to the house to see if he could save something—what did I suggest? I asked that he would bring a change of clothing for the children and my medicine chest.

As we waited for his return, some terrified horses dashed up the road, one with blood flowing from his nostrils. When Mr. Laighton finally returned, he brought news that he had seen my husband, that my boys were safe with him, that all the cooked 255provisions were spread out for the passing soldiers, and that more were in preparation; also that he had promised to take care of me, and to leave the general free to dispense these things judiciously. John had put the service of silver into the buggy, and Eliza had packed a trunk, for which he was to return. This proved to be the French trunk, in which Eliza sent a change of clothing.

When Mr. Laighton asked where he should go with us, I had no suggestion to make. Few of my friends were in the town, which was filled with refugees. My dear Mrs. Meade or Mr. Charles Campbell would, I was sure, shelter us in an extremity. I decided to drive slowly through the crowded streets, looking out for some sign of lodgings to let. Presently we met a man who directed us to an empty house, and there, dumping the silver service in the front porch, Mr. Laighton left us. About noon I had my first news from the seat of war. John and Alick appeared, the latter leading Rose by a rope. John was to return (he had come to bring me some biscuits and my champagne glasses!), but Alick positively rebelled. Go back! No, marm, not if he knew his name was Alick. His mammy had never borned him to be in no battle! And walking off to give Rose a pail of water, he informed her that "You'n me, Rose, is the only folks I see anywhar 'bout here with any sense."

Neighbors soon discovered us; and to my joy I found that Mrs. Gibson, Mrs. Meade, and Mr. Bishop—one of my father's elders—were in their own houses, very near my temporary shelter. 256 Our father, I learned afterwards, was with the hospital service of his corps, and had been sent to the rear. I sent John back to the farm, strictly ordering that the flag should be cared for. He told me it was safe. He had hidden it under some fence rails in the cellar. As to the battle, he had no news, except that "Marse Roger is giving away everything on the earth. All the presents from the farmer will go in a little while."

In the evening my little boys, envoys from their father, came in with confidential news. The day had gone against us. General Lee was holding the line through our garden. The city would be surrendered at midnight. Their father was giving all our stores of food and all his Confederate money to the private soldiers, a fact which evidently impressed them most of all.

I have told the thrilling story of the ensuing events elsewhere. Having been compelled to repeat much, I must now hasten on,—only briefly recording my husband's recapture, release on parole, and continued recapture every time the occupying troops were replaced by a new division.

The day the Federals entered the town I saw our precious banner borne in triumph past the door. The dear Petersburg women had made it and given it to their brave defender; it was coming back, amid shouts and songs of derision, a captive! As the troops passed they sang, to their battle hymn:—

"John Brown's body is a-mouldering in the ground,

As we go marching on!

Oh, glory hallelujah,

As we go marching on!"

257

And down the line the tune was caught by advancing soldiers:—

"Hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree,

As we go marching on.

Oh, glory hallelujah," etc.

"Ole Uncle Frank's at de bottom of dis business," said Alick; and alas! we had reason to believe that the wily old gentleman—whom we had left hiding in the cellar and imploring "for Gawd's sake, Jinny, bring me a gode o' water"—had purchased favor by revealing the hiding-place of our banner.

Early that morning German soldiers had rushed into our house demanding prisoners. My husband was marched off to headquarters, and the parole written by Mr. Lincoln himself on a visiting-card respected. The morning was filled with exciting incidents. Our English "colonel" came early: "To say good-by, madam! It's a shame!—and all just a question of bread and cheese—nothing but bread and cheese!"

We sat all day in the front room, watching the splendidly equipped host as it marched by on its way to capture Lee. It soon became known that we were there. Within the next few days we had calls from old Washington friends. Among others my husband was visited by Elihu B. Washburne and Senator Henry Wilson, afterward Vice-president of the United States with General Grant. These paid long visits and talked kindly and earnestly of the South.

Mr. Lincoln soon arrived and sent for my husband. But General Pryor excused himself, saying that he was a paroled prisoner, that General Lee was 258still in the field, and that he could hold no conference with the head of the opposing army.

The splendid troops passed continually. Our hearts sank within us. We had but one hope—that General Lee would join Joseph E. Johnston and find his way to the mountains of Virginia, those ramparts of nature which might afford protection until we could rest and recruit.

Intelligence of the death of President Lincoln reached Petersburg on the 17th of April. As he had been with us but a few days before, manifestly in perfect health and in all the glow and gladness of the triumph of the Federal arms, the community was unspeakably shocked by the catastrophe. That he fell by the hand of an assassin, and that the deed was done by a Confederate and avowedly in the interest of the Confederate cause, were circumstances which distressed us with an apprehension that the entire South would be held responsible for the atrocious occurrence. The day after the tragic news reached us, the people of Petersburg in public meeting adopted resolutions framed by General Pryor, deploring the President's death and denouncing his assassination,—resolutions which gave expression to the earnest and universal sentiment of Virginia. I question if, in any quarter of the country, the virtues of Abraham Lincoln—as exhibited in his spirit of forgiveness and forbearance—are more revered than in the very section which was the battle-ground of the fight for independence of his rule. It is certainly my husband's conviction that had he lived, the South would never have suffered the shame and sorrow of the carpet-bag régime.


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