ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA
PRIVATE SECOND COMPANY RICHMOND HOWITZERS, CUTSHAW'S BATTALION ARTILLERY, SECOND CORPS, A.N.V.
WM. L. SHEPPARD, Esq.
LIEUTENANT SECOND COMPANY RICHMOND HOWITZERS, A.N.V.
RICHMOND CARLTON MCCARTHY AND COMPANY 1882
Copyright, 1882, BY CARLTON McCARTHY.
The Riverside Press, Cambridge: Printed by H.O. Houghton and Company.
THE MEMORY OF MY BROTHER,
EDWARD STEVENS McCARTHY,
CAPTAIN FIRST COMPANY RICHMOND HOWITZERS:
WHO FELL AT COLD HARBOR,
June 4, 1864,
A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER.
CHAPTER I. PAGE A VOICE FROM THE RANKS 1
THE OUTFIT MODIFIED 16
ROMANTIC IDEAS DISSIPATED 29
ON THE MARCH 41
COOKING AND EATING 56
COMFORTS, CONVENIENCES, AND CONSOLATIONS 73
FUN AND FURY ON THE FIELD 94
IMPROVISED INFANTRY 116
"BRAVE SURVIVORS" HOMEWARD BOUND 159
SOLDIERS TRANSFORMED 177
CAMP FIRES OF THE BOYS IN GRAY 194
THE BATTLE FLAG 219
ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA.
A VOICE FROM THE RANKS.—INTRODUCTORY.
We are familiar with the names and deeds of the "generals," from the commander-in-chief down to the almost innumerable brigadiers, and we are all more or less ignorant of the habits and characteristics of the individuals who composed the rank and file of the "grand armies" of 1861-65.
As time rolls on, the historian, condensing matters, mentions "the men" by brigades, divisions, and corps. But here let us look at the individual soldier separated from the huge masses of men composing the armies, and doing his own work and duty.
The fame of Lee and Jackson, world-wide, and as the years increase ever brighter, is but condensed and personified admiration of the Confederate soldier, wrung from an unwilling world by his matchless courage, endurance, and devotion. Their fame is an everlasting monument to the mighty deeds of the nameless host who followed them through so much toil and blood to glorious victories.
The weak, as a rule, are borne down by the strong; but that does not prove that the strong are also the right. The weak suffer wrong, learn the bitterness of it, and finally, by resisting it, become the defenders of right and justice. When the mighty nations of the earth oppress the feeble, they nerve the arms and fire the hearts of God's instruments for the restoration of justice; and when one section of a country oppresses and insults another, the result is the pervasive malady,—war! which will work out the health of the nation, or leave it a bloody corpse.
The principles for which the Confederate soldier fought, and in defense of which he died, are to-day the harmony of this country. So long as they were held in abeyance, the country was in turmoil and on the verge of ruin.
It is not fair to demand a reason for actions above reason. The heart is greater than the mind. No man can exactly define the cause for which the Confederate soldier fought. He was above human reason and above human law, secure in his own rectitude of purpose, accountable to God only, having assumed for himself a "nationality," which he was minded to defend with his life and his property, and thereto pledged his sacred honor.
In the honesty and simplicity of his heart, the Confederate soldier had neglected his own interests and rights, until his accumulated wrongs and indignities forced him to one grand, prolonged effort to free himself from the pain of them. He dared not refuse to hear the call to arms, so plain was the duty and so urgent the call. His brethren and friends were answering the bugle-call and the roll of the drum. To stay was dishonor and shame!
He would not obey the dictates of tyranny. To disobey was death. He disobeyed and fought for his life. The romance of war charmed him, and he hurried from the embrace of his mother to the embrace of death. His playmates, his friends, and his associates were gone; he was lonesome, and he sought a reunion "in camp." He would not receive as gospel the dogmas of fanatics, and so he became a "rebel." Being a rebel, he must be punished. Being punished, he resisted. Resisting, he died.
The Confederate soldier opposed immense odds. In the "seven days battles" around Richmond, 80,000 drove to the James River 115,000 of the enemy. At Fredericksburg, in 1862, 78,000 of them routed 110,000 Federal troops. At Chancellorsville, in 1863, 57,000 under Lee and Jackson whipped, and but for the death of Jackson would have annihilated, an army of 132,000 men,—more than double their own number. At Gettysburg, 62,000 of them assailed the heights manned by 112,000. At the Wilderness, in 1864, 63,000 met and successfully resisted 141,000 of the enemy. At Appomattox, in April, 1865, 8,000 of them surrendered to the host commanded by Grant. The United States government, at the end of the war, mustered out of service 1,000,000 of men, and had in the field, from first to last, 2,600,000. If the Confederate soldier had then had only this disparity of numbers to contend with, he would have driven every invader from the soil of Virginia.
But the Confederate soldier fought, in addition to these odds, the facilities for the transportation and concentration of troops and supplies afforded by the network of railways in the country north of him, all of which were subject to the control of the government, and backed by a treasury which was turning out money by the ton, one dollar of which was equal to sixty Confederate dollars.
It should be remembered also that, while the South was restricted to its own territory for supplies, and its own people for men, the North drew on the world for material, and on every nation of the earth for men.
The arms and ammunition of the Federal soldiers were abundant and good,—so abundant and so good that they supplied both armies, and were greatly preferred by Confederate officers. The equipment of the Federal armies was well-nigh perfect. The facilities for manufacture were simply unlimited, and the nation thought no expenditure of treasure too great, if only the country, the Union! could be saved. The factory and the foundry chimneys made a pillar of smoke by day and of fire by night. The latest improvements were hurried to the front, and adopted by both armies almost simultaneously; for hardly had the Federal bought, when the Confederate captured, and used, the very latest.
Commissary stores were piled up all over Virginia, for the use of the invading armies. They had more than they could protect, and their loss was gain to the hungry defenders of the soil.
The Confederate soldier fought a host of ills occasioned by the deprivation of chloroform and morphia, which were excluded from the Confederacy, by the blockade, as contraband of war. The man who has submitted to amputation without chloroform, or tossed on a couch of agony for a night and a day without sleep for the want of a dose of morphia, may possibly be able to estimate the advantages which resulted from the possession by the Federal surgeons of an unlimited supply of these.
The Confederate soldier fought bounties and regular monthly pay; the "Stars and Stripes," the "Star Spangled Banner," "Hail Columbia," "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp," "John Brown's Body," "Rally round the Flag," and all the fury and fanaticism which skilled minds could create,—opposing this grand array with the modest and homely refrain of "Dixie," supported by a mild solution of "Maryland, My Maryland." He fought good wagons, fat horses, and tons of quartermaster's stores; pontoon trains, of splendid material and construction, by the mile; gunboats, wooden and iron, and men-of-war; illustrated papers, to cheer the "Boys in Blue" with sketches of the glorious deeds they did not do; Bibles by the car load, and tracts by the million,—the first to prepare them for death, and the second to urge upon them the duty of dying.
The Confederate soldier fought the "Sanitary Commission," whose members, armed with every facility and convenience, quickly carried the sick and wounded of the Federal army to comfortable quarters, removed the bloody garments, laid the sufferer on a clean and dry couch, clothed him in clean things, and fed him on the best the world could afford and money buy.
He fought the well-built, thoroughly equipped ambulances, the countless surgeons, nurses, and hospital stewards, and the best surgical appliances known to the medical world. He fought the commerce of the United States and all the facilities for war which Europe could supply, while his own ports were closed to all the world. He fought the trained army officers and the regular troops of the United States Army, assisted by splendid native volunteer soldiers, besides swarms of men, the refuse of the earth,—Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German, Irish, Scotch, English, French, Chinese, Japanese,—white, black, olive, and brown. He laid down life for life with this hireling host, who died for pay, mourned by no one, missed by no one, loved by no one; who were better fed and clothed, fatter, happier, and more contented in the army than ever they were at home, and whose graves strew the earth in lonesome places, where none go to weep. When one of these fell, two could be bought to fill the gap. The Confederate soldier killed these without compunction, and their comrades buried them without a tear.
The Confederate soldier fought the cries of distress which came from his home,—tales of woe, want, insult, and robbery. He fought men who knew that their homes (when they had any) were safe, their wives and children, their parents and sisters, sheltered, and their business affairs more than usually prosperous; who could draw sight drafts, have them honored, and make the camp table as bountiful and luxurious as that of a New York hotel. He fought a government founded by the genius of his fathers, which derived its strength from principles they formulated, and which persuaded its soldiers that they were the champions of the constitutional liberty which they were marching to invade, and eventually to destroy.
The relative strength of armies becomes a matter of secondary importance when these facts are considered. The disparity of numbers only, would never have produced the result which the combination of these various forces did,—the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The Confederate soldier was purely patriotic. He foresaw clearly, and deliberately chose, the trials which he endured. He was an individual who could not become the indefinite portion of a mass, but fought for himself, on his own account. He was a self-sacrificing hero, but did not claim that distinction or any merit, feeling only that he was in the line of duty to self, country, and God. He fought for a principle, and needed neither driving nor urging, but was eager and determined to fight. He was not a politic man, but a man under fervent feeling, forgetful of the possibilities and calamities of war, pressing his claims to the rights of humanity.
The Confederate soldier was a monomaniac for four years. His mania was, the independence of the Confederates States of America, secured by force of arms.
The Confederate soldier was a venerable old man, a youth, a child, a preacher, a farmer, merchant, student, statesman, orator, father, brother, husband, son,—the wonder of the world, the terror of his foes!
If the peace of this country can only be preserved by forgetting the Confederate soldier's deeds and his claims upon the South, the blessing is too dearly bought. We have sworn to be grateful to him. Dying, his head pillowed on the bosom of his mother, Virginia, he heard that his name would be honored.
When we fill up, hurriedly, the bloody chasm opened by war, we should be careful that we do not bury therein many noble deeds, some tender memories, some grand examples, and some hearty promises washed with tears.
The following letter, written by an aged father to his only son, then a mere boy, who had volunteered as an infantry soldier and was already in the field, is an appropriate conclusion to this chapter; showing admirably well the kind of inspiration which went from Southern homes to Southern soldiers:—
AT HOME, July 17, 1861.
MY DEAR SON,—It may have seemed strange to you that a professing Christian father so freely gave you, a Christian son, to enlist in the volunteer service. My reason was that I regarded this as a purely defensive war. Not only did the Southern Confederacy propose to adjust the pending difficulties by peaceful and equitable negotiations, but Virginia used again and again the most earnest and noble efforts to prevent a resort to the sword. These overtures having been proudly spurned, and our beloved South having been threatened with invasion and subjugation, it seemed to me that nothing was left us but stern resistance, or abject submission, to unconstitutional power. A brave and generous people could not for a moment hesitate between such alternatives. A war in defense of our homes and firesides, of our wives and children, of all that makes life worth possessing, is the result. While I most deeply deplored the necessity for the sacrifice, I could not but rejoice that I had a son to offer to the service of the country, and if I had a dozen, I would most freely give them all. As you are now cheerfully enduring the hardships of the camp, I know you will listen to a father's suggestions touching the duties of your new mode of life.
1. Take special care of your health. More soldiers die of disease than in battle. A thin piece of damp sponge in the crown of your hat during exposure to the hot sun, the use of thick shoes and a water-proof coat in rainy weather, the practice of drinking cold water when you are very warm as slowly as you sip hot tea, the thorough mastication of your food, the avoiding of damp tents and damp grounds during sleep, and frequent ablutions of your person are all the hints I can give you on this point. Should you need anything that I can supply, let me hear from you. I will do what I can to make you comfortable. After all, you must learn to endure hardness as a good soldier. Having never slept a single night in your whole life except in a pleasant bed, and never known a scarcity of good food, you doubtless find the ways of the camp rough; but never mind. The war, I trust, will soon be over, and then the remembrance of your hardships will sweeten the joy of peace.
2. The rules of war require prompt and unquestioning obedience. You may sometimes think the command arbitrary and the officer supercilious, but it is yours to obey. An undisciplined army is a curse to its friends and a derision to its foes. Give your whole influence, therefore, to the maintenance of lawful authority and of strict order. Let your superiors feel assured that whatever they entrust to you will be faithfully done. Composed of such soldiers, and led by skillful and brave commanders, our army, by the blessing of God, will never be defeated. It is, moreover, engaged in a holy cause, and must triumph.
3. Try to maintain your Christian profession among your comrades. I need not caution you against strong drink as useless and hurtful, nor against profanity, so common among soldiers. Both these practices you abhor. Aim to take at once a decided stand for God. If practicable have prayers regularly in your tent, or unite with your fellow-disciples in prayer-meetings in the camp. Should preaching be accessible, always be a hearer. Let the world know that you are a Christian. Read a chapter in the New Testament, which your mother gave you, every morning and evening, when you can, and engage in secret prayer to God for his holy Spirit to guide and sustain you. I would rather hear of your death than of the shipwreck of your faith and good conscience.
4. As you will come into habitual contact with men of every grade, make special associates only of those whose influence on your character is felt to be good. Some men love to tell extravagant stories, to indulge in vulgar wit, to exult in a swaggering carriage, to pride themselves on their coarse manners, to boast of their heroism, and to give utterance to feelings of revenge against the enemy. All this is injurious to young and impressible minds. If you admire such things, you will insensibly imitate them, and imitation will work gradual but certain detriment to your character. Other men are refined without being affected. They can relax into occasional pleasantries without violating modesty. They can be loyal to their government without indulging private hatred against her foes. They can be cool and brave in battle, and not be braggarts in the absence of danger. Above all, they can be humble, spiritual, and active Christians, and yet mingle in the stirring and perilous duties of soldier-life. Let these be your companions and models. You will thus return from the dangers of camp without a blemish on your name.
5. Should it be your lot to enter into an engagement with the enemy, lift up your heart in secret ejaculations to the ever-present and good Being, that He will protect you from sudden death, or if you fall, that He will receive your departing spirit, cleansed in the blood of Jesus, into His kingdom. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes. Commit your eternal interests, therefore, to the keeping of the Almighty Saviour. You should not, even in the hour of deadly conflict, cherish personal rage against the enemy, any more than an officer of the law hates the victim of the law. How often does a victorious army tenderly care for the dead and wounded of the vanquished. War is a tremendous scourge which Providence sometimes uses to chastise proud and wicked nations. Both parties must suffer, even though one may get the advantage. There is no occasion then for adding to the intrinsic evils of the system the odious feature of animosity to individuals. In the ranks of the foe are thousands of plain men who do not understand the principles for which we are struggling. They are deceived by artful demagogues into a posture of hostility to those whom, knowing, they would love. It is against such men that you may perhaps be arrayed, and the laws of war do not forbid you to pity them even in the act of destroying them. It is the more important that we should exhibit a proper temper in this unfortunate contest, because many professed Christians and ministers of the gospel at the North are breathing out, in their very prayers and sermons, threatenings and slaughter against us. Oh! how painful that a gray-headed pastor should publicly exclaim, "I would hang them as quick as I would shoot a mad dog!"
6. Providence has placed you in the midst of thoughtless and unpardoned men. What a beautiful thing it would be if you could win some of them to the Saviour. Will you not try? You will have many opportunities of saying a word in season. The sick you may comfort, the wavering you may confirm, the backslidden you may reclaim, the weary and heavy laden you may point to Jesus for rest to the soul. It is not presumptuous for a young man kindly and meekly to commend the gospel to his brother soldiers. The hardest of them will not repel a gentle approach, made in private. And many of them would doubtless be glad to have the subject introduced to them. They desire to hear of Jesus, but they lack courage to inquire of his people. An unusually large proportion of pious men have entered the army, and I trust they will give a new complexion to military life. Let them search out each other, and establish a fraternity among all the worshipers of God. To interchange religious views and administer brotherly counsel will be mutually edifying. "He that watereth shall be watered also himself."
And now, as a soldier has but little leisure, I will not occupy you longer. Be assured that every morning and evening we remember you, at the family altar, to our Father in Heaven. We pray for "a speedy, just, and honorable peace," and for the safe return of all the volunteers to their loved homes. All the children speak often of "brother," and hear your letters read with intense interest. That God Almighty may be your shield and your exceeding great reward, is the constant prayer of your loving father.
THE OUTFIT MODIFIED.
With the men who composed the Army of Northern Virginia will die the memory of those little things which made the Confederate soldier peculiarly what he was.
The historian who essays to write the "grand movements" will hardly stop to tell how the hungry private fried his bacon, baked his biscuit, and smoked his pipe; how he was changed from time to time by the necessities of the service, until the gentleman, the student, the merchant, the mechanic, and the farmer were merged into a perfect, all-enduring, never-tiring and invincible soldier. To preserve these little details, familiar to all soldiers, and by them not thought worthy of mention to others, because of their familiarity, but still dear to them and always the substance of their "war talks," is the object of this book.
The volunteer of 1861 made extensive preparations for the field. Boots, he thought, were an absolute necessity, and the heavier the soles and longer the tops the better. His pants were stuffed inside the tops of his boots, of course. A double-breasted coat, heavily wadded, with two rows of big brass buttons and a long skirt, was considered comfortable. A small stiff cap, with a narrow brim, took the place of the comfortable "felt," or the shining and towering tile worn in civil life.
Then over all was a huge overcoat, long and heavy, with a cape reaching nearly to the waist. On his back he strapped a knapsack containing a full stock of underwear, soap, towels, comb, brush, looking-glass, tooth-brush, paper and envelopes, pens, ink, pencils, blacking, photographs, smoking and chewing tobacco, pipes, twine string, and cotton strips for wounds and other emergencies, needles and thread, buttons, knife, fork, and spoon, and many other things as each man's idea of what he was to encounter varied. On the outside of the knapsack, solidly folded, were two great blankets and a rubber or oil-cloth. This knapsack, etc., weighed from fifteen to twenty-five pounds, sometimes even more. All seemed to think it was impossible to have on too many or too heavy clothes, or to have too many conveniences, and each had an idea that to be a good soldier he must be provided against every possible emergency.
In addition to the knapsack, each man had a haversack, more or less costly, some of cloth and some of fine morocco, and stored with provisions always, as though he expected any moment to receive orders to march across the Great Desert, and supply his own wants on the way. A canteen was considered indispensable, and at the outset it was thought prudent to keep it full of water. Many, expecting terrific hand-to-hand encounters, carried revolvers, and even bowie-knives. Merino shirts (and flannel) were thought to be the right thing, but experience demonstrated the contrary. Gloves were also thought to be very necessary and good things to have in winter time, the favorite style being buck gauntlets with long cuffs.
In addition to each man's private luggage, each mess, generally composed of from five to ten men, drawn together by similar tastes and associations, had its outfit, consisting of a large camp chest containing skillet, frying pan, coffee boiler, bucket for lard, coffee box, salt box, sugar box, meal box, flour box, knives, forks, spoons, plates, cups, etc., etc. These chests were so large that eight or ten of them filled up an army wagon, and were so heavy that two strong men had all they could do to get one of them into the wagon. In addition to the chest each mess owned an axe, water bucket, and bread tray. Then the tents of each company, and little sheet-iron stoves, and stove pipe, and the trunks and valises of the company officers, made an immense pile of stuff, so that each company had a small wagon train of its own.
All thought money to be absolutely necessary, and for awhile rations were disdained and the mess supplied with the best that could be bought with the mess fund. Quite a large number had a "boy" along to do the cooking and washing. Think of it! a Confederate soldier with a body servant all his own, to bring him a drink of water, black his boots, dust his clothes, cook his corn bread and bacon, and put wood on his fire. Never was there fonder admiration than these darkies displayed for their masters. Their chief delight and glory was to praise the courage and good looks of "Mahse Tom," and prophesy great things about his future. Many a ringing laugh and shout of fun originated in the queer remarks, shining countenance, and glistening teeth of this now forever departed character.
It is amusing to think of the follies of the early part of the war, as illustrated by the outfits of the volunteers. They were so heavily clad, and so burdened with all manner of things, that a march was torture, and the wagon trains were so immense in proportion to the number of troops, that it would have been impossible to guard them in an enemy's country. Subordinate officers thought themselves entitled to transportation for trunks, mattresses, and folding bedsteads, and the privates were as ridiculous in their demands.
Thus much by way of introduction. The change came rapidly, and stayed not until the transformation was complete. Nor was this change attributable alone to the orders of the general officers. The men soon learned the inconvenience and danger of so much luggage, and, as they became more experienced, they vied with each other in reducing themselves to light-marching trim.
Experience soon demonstrated that boots were not agreeable on a long march. They were heavy and irksome, and when the heels were worn a little one-sided, the wearer would find his ankle twisted nearly out of joint by every unevenness of the road. When thoroughly wet, it was a laborious undertaking to get them off, and worse to get them on in time to answer the morning roll-call. And so, good, strong brogues or brogans, with broad bottoms and big, flat heels, succeeded the boots, and were found much more comfortable and agreeable, easier put on and off, and altogether the more sensible.
A short-waisted and single-breasted jacket usurped the place of the long-tailed coat, and became universal. The enemy noticed this peculiarity, and called the Confederates gray jackets, which name was immediately transferred to those lively creatures which were the constant admirers and inseparable companions of the Boys in Gray and in Blue.
Caps were destined to hold out longer than some other uncomfortable things, but they finally yielded to the demands of comfort and common sense, and a good soft felt hat was worn instead. A man who has never been a soldier does not know, nor indeed can know, the amount of comfort there is in a good soft hat in camp, and how utterly useless is a "soldier hat" as they are generally made. Why the Prussians, with all their experience, wear their heavy, unyielding helmets, and the French their little caps, is a mystery to a Confederate who has enjoyed the comfort of an old slouch.
Overcoats an inexperienced man would think an absolute necessity for men exposed to the rigors of a northern Virginia winter, but they grew scarcer and scarcer; they were found to be a great inconvenience. The men came to the conclusion that the trouble of carrying them on hot days outweighed the comfort of having them when the cold day arrived. Besides they found that life in the open air hardened them to such an extent that changes in the temperature were not felt to any degree. Some clung to their overcoats to the last, but the majority got tired lugging them around, and either discarded them altogether, or trusted to capturing one about the time it would be needed. Nearly every overcoat in the army in the latter years was one of Uncle Sam's captured from his boys.
The knapsack vanished early in the struggle. It was inconvenient to "change" the underwear too often, and the disposition not to change grew, as the knapsack was found to gall the back and shoulders, and weary the man before half the march was accomplished. The better way was to dress out and out, and wear that outfit until the enemy's knapsacks, or the folks at home supplied a change. Certainly it did not pay to carry around clean clothes while waiting for the time to use them.
Very little washing was done, as a matter of course. Clothes once given up were parted with forever. There were good reasons for this: cold water would not cleanse them or destroy the vermin, and hot water was not always to be had. One blanket to each man was found to be as much as could be carried, and amply sufficient for the severest weather. This was carried generally by rolling it lengthwise, with the rubber cloth outside, tying the ends of the roll together, and throwing the loop thus made over the left shoulder with the ends fastened together hanging under the right arm.
The haversack held its own to the last, and was found practical and useful. It very seldom, however, contained rations, but was used to carry all the articles generally carried in the knapsack; of course the stock was small. Somehow or other, many men managed to do without the haversack, and carried absolutely nothing but what they wore and had in their pockets.
The infantry threw away their heavy cap boxes and cartridge boxes, and carried their caps and cartridges in their pockets. Canteens were very useful at times, but they were as a general thing discarded. They were not much used to carry water, but were found useful when the men were driven to the necessity of foraging, for conveying buttermilk, cider, sorghum, etc., to camp. A good strong tin cup was found better than a canteen, as it was easier to fill at a well or spring, and was serviceable as a boiler for making coffee when the column halted for the night.
Revolvers were found to be about as useless and heavy lumber as a private soldier could carry, and early in the war were sent home to be used by the women and children in protecting themselves from insult and violence at the hands of the ruffians who prowled about the country shirking duty.
Strong cotton was adopted in place of flannel and merino, for two reasons: first, because easier to wash; and second, because the vermin did not propagate so rapidly in cotton as in wool. Common white cotton shirts and drawers proved the best that could be used by the private soldier.
Gloves to any but a mounted man were found useless, worse than useless. With the gloves on, it was impossible to handle an axe, buckle harness, load a musket, or handle a rammer at the piece. Wearing them was found to be simply a habit, and so, on the principle that the less luggage the less labor, they were discarded.
The camp-chest soon vanished. The brigadiers and major-generals, even, found them too troublesome, and soon they were left entirely to the quartermasters and commissaries. One skillet and a couple of frying pans, a bag for flour or meal, another bag for salt, sugar, and coffee, divided by a knot tied between, served the purpose as well. The skillet passed from mess to mess. Each mess generally owned a frying pan, but often one served a company. The oil-cloth was found to be as good as the wooden tray for making up the dough. The water bucket held its own to the last!
Tents were rarely seen. All the poetry about the "tented field" died. Two men slept together, each having a blanket and an oil-cloth; one oil-cloth went next to the ground. The two laid on this, covered themselves with two blankets, protected from the rain with the second oil-cloth on top, and slept very comfortably through rain, snow or hail, as it might be.
Very little money was seen in camp. The men did not expect, did not care for, or often get any pay, and they were not willing to deprive the old folks at home of their little supply, so they learned to do without any money.
When rations got short and were getting shorter, it became necessary to dismiss the darkey servants. Some, however, became company servants, instead of private institutions, and held out faithfully to the end, cooking the rations away in the rear, and at the risk of life carrying them to the line of battle to their "young mahsters."
Reduced to the minimum, the private soldier consisted of one man, one hat, one jacket, one shirt, one pair of pants, one pair of drawers, one pair of shoes, and one pair of socks. His baggage was one blanket, one rubber blanket, and one haversack. The haversack generally contained smoking tobacco and a pipe, and a small piece of soap, with temporary additions of apples, persimmons, blackberries, and such other commodities as he could pick up on the march.
The company property consisted of two or three skillets and frying pans, which were sometimes carried in the wagon, but oftener in the hands of the soldiers. The infantrymen generally preferred to stick the handle of the frying pan in the barrel of a musket, and so carry it.
The wagon trains were devoted entirely to the transportation of ammunition and commissary and quartermaster's stores, which had not been issued. Rations which had become company property, and the baggage of the men, when they had any, was carried by the men themselves. If, as was sometimes the case, three days' rations were issued at one time and the troops ordered to cook them, and be prepared to march, they did cook them, and eat them if possible, so as to avoid the labor of carrying them. It was not such an undertaking either, to eat three days' rations in one, as frequently none had been issued for more than a day, and when issued were cut down one half.
The infantry found out that bayonets were not of much use, and did not hesitate to throw them, with the scabbard, away.
The artillerymen, who started out with heavy sabres hanging to their belts, stuck them up in the mud as they marched, and left them for the ordnance officers to pick up and turn over to the cavalry.
The cavalrymen found sabres very tiresome when swung to the belt, and adopted the plan of fastening them to the saddle on the left side, with the hilt in front and in reach of the hand. Finally sabres got very scarce even among the cavalrymen, who relied more and more on their short rifles.
No soldiers ever marched with less to encumber them, and none marched faster or held out longer.
The courage and devotion of the men rose equal to every hardship and privation, and the very intensity of their sufferings became a source of merriment. Instead of growling and deserting, they laughed at their own bare feet, ragged clothes and pinched faces; and weak, hungry, cold, wet, worried with vermin and itch, dirty, with no hope of reward or rest, marched cheerfully to meet the well-fed and warmly clad hosts of the enemy.
ROMANTIC IDEAS DISSIPATED.
To offer a man promotion in the early part of the war was equivalent to an insult. The higher the social position, the greater the wealth, the more patriotic it would be to serve in the humble position of a private; and many men of education and ability in the various professions, refusing promotion, served under the command of men greatly their inferiors, mentally, morally, and as soldiers. It soon became apparent that the country wanted knowledge and ability, as well as muscle and endurance, and those who had capacity to serve in higher positions were promoted. Still it remained true that inferior men commanded their superiors in every respect, save one—rank; and leaving out the one difference of rank, the officers and men were about on a par.
It took years to teach the educated privates in the army that it was their duty to give unquestioning obedience to officers because they were such, who were awhile ago their playmates and associates in business. It frequently happened that the private, feeling hurt by the stern authority of the officer, would ask him to one side, challenge him to personal combat, and thrash him well. After awhile these privates learned all about extra duty, half rations, and courts-martial.
It was only to conquer this independent resistance of discipline that punishment or force was necessary. The privates were as willing and anxious to fight and serve as the officers, and needed no pushing up to their duty. It is amusing to recall the disgust with which the men would hear of their assignment to the rear as reserves. They regarded the order as a deliberate insult, planned by some officer who had a grudge against their regiment or battery, who had adopted this plan to prevent their presence in battle, and thus humiliate them. How soon did they learn the sweetness of a day's repose in the rear!
Another romantic notion which for awhile possessed the boys was that soldiers should not try to be comfortable, but glory in getting wet, being cold, hungry, and tired. So they refused shelter in houses or barns, and "like true soldiers" paddled about in the mud and rain, thinking thereby to serve their country better. The real troubles had not come, and they were in a hurry to suffer some. They had not long thus impatiently to wait, nor could they latterly complain of the want of a chance "to do or die." Volunteering for perilous or very onerous duty was popular at the outset, but as duties of this kind thickened it began to be thought time enough when the "orders" were peremptory, or the orderly read the "detail."
Another fancy idea was that the principal occupation of a soldier should be actual conflict with the enemy. They didn't dream of such a thing as camping for six months at a time without firing a gun, or marching and countermarching to mislead the enemy, or driving wagons and ambulances, building bridges, currying horses, and the thousand commonplace duties of the soldier.
On the other hand, great importance was attached to some duties which soon became mere drudgery. Sometimes the whole detail for guard—first, second, and third relief—would make it a point of honor to sit up the entire night, and watch and listen as though the enemy might pounce upon them at any moment, and hurry them off to prison. Of course they soon learned how sweet it was, after two hours' walking of the beat, to turn in for four hours! which seemed to the sleepy man an eternity in anticipation, but only a brief time in retrospect, when the corporal gave him a "chunk," and remarked, "Time to go on guard."
Everybody remembers how we used to talk about "one Confederate whipping a dozen Yankees." Literally true sometimes, but, generally speaking, two to one made hard work for the boys. They didn't know at the beginning anything about the advantage the enemy had in being able to present man for man in front and then send as many more to worry the flanks and rear. They learned something about this very soon, and had to contend against it on almost every field they won.
Wounds were in great demand after the first wounded hero made his appearance. His wound was the envy of thousands of unfortunates who had not so much as a scratch to boast, and who felt "small" and of little consequence before the man with a bloody bandage. Many became despondent and groaned as they thought that perchance after all they were doomed to go home safe and sound, and hear, for all time, the praises of the fellow who had lost his arm by a cannon shot, or had his face ripped by a sabre, or his head smashed with a fragment of shell. After awhile the wound was regarded as a practical benefit. It secured a furlough of indefinite length, good eating, the attention and admiration of the fair, and, if permanently disabling, a discharge. Wisdom, born of experience, soon taught all hands better sense, and the fences and trees and ditches and rocks became valuable, and eagerly sought after when "the music" of "minie" and the roar of the "Napoleon" twelve-pounders was heard. Death on the field, glorious first and last, was dared for duty's sake, but the good soldier learned to guard his life, and yield it only at the call of duty.
Only the wisest men, those who had seen war before, imagined that the war would last more than a few months. The young volunteers thought one good battle would settle the whole matter; and, indeed, after "first Manassas" many thought they might as well go home! The whole North was frightened, and no more armies would dare assail the soil of Old Virginia. Colonels and brigadiers, with flesh wounds not worthy of notice, rushed to Richmond to report the victory and the end of the war! They had "seen sights" in the way of wounded and killed, plunder, etc., and according to their views, no sane people would try again to conquer the heroes of that remarkable day.
The newspaper men delighted in telling the soldiers that the Yankees were a diminutive race, of feeble constitution, timid as hares, with no enthusiasm, and that they would perish in short order under the glow of our southern sun. Any one who has seen a regiment from Ohio or Maine knows how true these statements were. And besides, the newspapers did not mention the English, Irish, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Swiss, Portuguese, and negroes, who were to swell the numbers of the enemy, and as our army grew less make his larger. True, there was not much fight in all this rubbish, but they answered well enough for drivers of wagons and ambulances, guarding stores and lines of communication, and doing all sorts of duty, while the good material was doing the fighting. Sherman's army, marching through Richmond after the surrender of Lee and Johnston, seemed to be composed of a race of giants, well-fed and well-clad.
Many feared the war would end before they would have a fair chance to "make a record," and that when "the cruel war was over" they would have to sit by, dumb, and hear the more fortunate ones, who had "smelt the battle," tell to admiring home circles the story of the bloody field. Most of these "got in" in time to satisfy their longings, and "got out" to learn that the man who did not go, but "kept out," and made money, was more admired and courted than the "poor fellow" with one leg or arm less than is "allowed."
It is fortunate for those who "skulked" that the war ended as it did, for had the South been successful, the soldiers would have been favored with every mark of distinction and honor, and they "despised and rejected," as they deserved to be. While the war lasted it was the delight of some of the stoutly built fellows to go home for a few days, and kick and cuff and tongue-lash the able-bodied bomb-proofs. How coolly and submissively they took it all! How "big" they are now!
The rubbish accumulated by the hope of recognition burdened the soldiers nearly to the end. England was to abolish the blockade and send us immense supplies of fine arms, large and small. France was thinking about landing an imperial force in Mexico, and marching thence to the relief of the South. But the "Confederate yell" never had an echo in the "Marseillaise," or "God save the Queen;" and Old Dixie was destined to sing her own song, without the help even of "Maryland, my Maryland." The "war with England," which was to give Uncle Sam trouble and the South an ally, never came.
Those immense balloons which somebody was always inventing, and which were to sail over the enemy's camps dropping whole cargoes of explosives, never "tugged" at their anchors, or "sailed majestically away."
As discipline improved and the men began to feel that they were no longer simply volunteers, but enlisted volunteers, the romantic devotion which they had felt was succeeded by a feeling of constraint and necessity, and while the army was in reality very much improved and strengthened by the change, the soldiers imagined the contrary to be the case. And if discipline had been pushed to too great an extent, the army would have been deprived of the very essence of its life and power.
When the officers began to assert superiority by withdrawing from the messes and organizing "officers' messes," the bond of brotherhood was weakened; and who will say that the dignity which was thus maintained was compensation for the loss of personal devotion as between comrades?
At the outset, the fact that men were in the same company put them somewhat on the same level, and produced an almost perfect bond of sympathy; but as time wore on, the various peculiarities and weaknesses of the men showed themselves, and each company, as a community, separated into distinct circles, as indifferent to each other, save in the common cause, as though they had never met as friends.
The pride of the volunteers was sorely tried by the incoming of conscripts,—the most despised class in the army,—and their devotion to company and regiment was visibly lessened. They could not bear the thought of having these men for comrades, and felt the flag insulted when claimed by one of them as "his flag." It was a great source of annoyance to the true men, but was a necessity. Conscripts crowded together in companies, regiments, and brigades would have been useless, but scattered here and there among the good men, were utilized. And so, gradually, the pleasure that men had in being associated with others whom they respected as equals was taken away, and the social aspect of army life seriously marred.
The next serious blow to romance was the abolishment of elections, and the appointment of officers. Instead of the privilege and pleasure of picking out some good-hearted, brave comrade and making him captain, the lieutenant was promoted without the consent of the men, or, what was harder to bear, some officer hitherto unknown was sent to take command. This was no doubt better for the service, but it had a serious effect on the minds of volunteer patriot soldiers, and looked to them too much like arbitrary power exercised over men who were fighting that very principle. They frequently had to acknowledge, however, that the officers were all they could ask, and in many instances became devotedly attached to them.
As the companies were decimated by disease, wounds, desertions, and death, it became necessary to consolidate them, and the social pleasures received another blow. Men from the same neighborhoods and villages, who had been schoolmates together, were no longer in companies, but mingled indiscriminately with all sorts of men from anywhere and everywhere.
Those who have not served in the army as privates can form no idea of the extent to which such changes as those just mentioned affect the spirits and general worth of a soldier. Men who, when surrounded by their old companions, were brave and daring soldiers, full of spirit and hope, when thrust among strangers for whom they cared not, and who cared not for them, became dull and listless, lost their courage, and were slowly but surely "demoralized." They did, it is true, in many cases, stand up to the last, but they did it on dry principle, having none of that enthusiasm and delight in duty which once characterized them.
The Confederate soldier was peculiar in that he was ever ready to fight, but never ready to submit to the routine duty and discipline of the camp or the march. The soldiers were determined to be soldiers after their own notions, and do their duty, for the love of it, as they thought best. The officers saw the necessity for doing otherwise, and so the conflict was commenced and maintained to the end.
It is doubtful whether the Southern soldier would have submitted to any hardships which were purely the result of discipline, and, on the other hand, no amount of hardship, clearly of necessity, could cool his ardor. And in spite of all this antagonism between the officers and men, the presence of conscripts, the consolidation of commands, and many other discouraging facts, the privates in the ranks so conducted themselves that the historians of the North were forced to call them the finest body of infantry ever assembled.
But to know the men, we must see them divested of all their false notions of soldier life, and enduring the incomparable hardships which marked the latter half of the war.
ON THE MARCH.
It is a common mistake of those who write on subjects familiar to themselves, to omit the details, which, to one not so conversant with the matters discussed, are necessary to a clear appreciation of the meaning of the writer. This mistake is fatal when the writer lives and writes in one age and his readers live in another. And so a soldier, writing for the information of the citizen, should forget his own familiarity with the every-day scenes of soldier life and strive to record even those things which seem to him too common to mention.
Who does not know all about the marching of soldiers? Those who have never marched with them and some who have. The varied experience of thousands would not tell the whole story of the march. Every man must be heard before the story is told, and even then the part of those who fell by the way is wanting.
Orders to move! Where? when? what for?—are the eager questions of the men as they begin their preparations to march. Generally nobody can answer, and the journey is commenced in utter ignorance of where it is to end. But shrewd guesses are made, and scraps of information will be picked up on the way. The main thought must be to "get ready to move." The orderly sergeant is shouting "Fall in!" and there is no time to lose. The probability is that before you get your blanket rolled up, find your frying pan, haversack, axe, etc., and "fall in," the roll-call will be over, and some "extra duty" provided.
No wonder there is bustle in the camp. Rapid decisions are to be made between the various conveniences which have accumulated, for some must be left. One fellow picks up the skillet, holds it awhile, mentally determining how much it weighs, and what will be the weight of it after carrying it five miles, and reluctantly, with a half-ashamed, sly look, drops it and takes his place in ranks. Another having added to his store of blankets too freely, now has to decide which of the two or three he will leave. The old water-bucket looks large and heavy, but one stout-hearted, strong-armed man has taken it affectionately to his care.
This is the time to say farewell to the breadtray, farewell to the little piles of clean straw laid between two logs, where it was so easy to sleep; farewell to those piles of wood, cut with so much labor; farewell to the girls in the neighborhood; farewell to the spring, farewell to "our tree" and "our fire," good-by to the fellows who are not going, and a general good-by to the very hills and valleys.
Soldiers commonly threw away the most valuable articles they possessed. Blankets, overcoats, shoes, bread and meat,—all gave way to the necessities of the march; and what one man threw away would frequently be the very article that another wanted and would immediately pick up; so there was not much lost after all.
The first hour or so of the march was generally quite orderly, the men preserving their places in ranks and marching in solid column; but soon some lively fellow whistles an air, somebody else starts a song, the whole column breaks out with roars of laughter; "route step" takes the place of order, and the jolly singing, laughing, talking, and joking that follows no one could describe.
Now let any young officer who sports a new hat, coat, saddle, or anything odd, or fine, dare to pass along, and how nicely he is attended to. The expressions of good-natured fun, or contempt, which one regiment of infantry was capable of uttering in a day for the benefit of such passers-by, would fill a volume. As one thing or another in the dress of the "subject" of their remarks attracted attention, they would shout, "Come out of that hat!—you can't hide in thar!" "Come out of that coat, come out—there's a man in it!" "Come out of them boots!" The infantry seemed to know exactly what to say to torment cavalry and artillery, and generally said it. If any one on the roadside was simple enough to recognize and address by name a man in the ranks, the whole column would kindly respond, and add all sorts of pleasant remarks, such as, "Halloa, John, here's your brother!" "Bill! oh, Bill! here's your ma!" "Glad to see you! How's your grandma?" "How d 'ye do!" "Come out of that 'biled shirt'!"
Troops on the march were generally so cheerful and gay that an outsider, looking on them as they marched, would hardly imagine how they suffered. In summer time, the dust, combined with the heat, caused great suffering. The nostrils of the men, filled with dust, became dry and feverish, and even the throat did not escape. The "grit" was felt between the teeth, and the eyes were rendered almost useless. There was dust in eyes, mouth, ears, and hair. The shoes were full of sand, and the dust, penetrating the clothes, and getting in at the neck, wrists, and ankles, mixed with perspiration, produced an irritant almost as active as cantharides. The heat was at times terrific, but the men became greatly accustomed to it, and endured it with wonderful ease. Their heavy woolen clothes were a great annoyance; tough linen or cotton clothes would have been a great relief; indeed, there are many objections to woolen clothing for soldiers, even in winter. The sun produced great changes in the appearance of the men: their skins, tanned to a dark brown or red, their hands black almost, and long uncut beard and hair, burned to a strange color, made them barely recognizable to the home folks.
If the dust and the heat were not on hand to annoy, their very able substitutes were: mud, cold, rain, snow, hail and wind took their places. Rain was the greatest discomfort a soldier could have; it was more uncomfortable than the severest cold with clear weather. Wet clothes, shoes, and blankets; wet meat and bread; wet feet and wet ground; wet wood to burn, or rather not to burn; wet arms and ammunition; wet ground to sleep on, mud to wade through, swollen creeks to ford, muddy springs, and a thousand other discomforts attended the rain. There was no comfort on a rainy day or night except in "bed,"—that is, under your blanket and oil-cloth. Cold winds, blowing the rain in the faces of the men, increased the discomfort. Mud was often so deep as to submerge the horses and mules, and at times it was necessary for one man or more to extricate another from the mud holes in the road. Night marching was attended with additional discomforts and dangers, such as falling off bridges, stumbling into ditches, tearing the face and injuring the eyes against the bushes and projecting limbs of trees, and getting separated from your own company and hopelessly lost in the multitude. Of course, a man lost had no sympathy. If he dared to ask a question, every man in hearing would answer, each differently, and then the whole multitude would roar with laughter at the lost man, and ask him "if his mother knew he was out?"
Very few men had comfortable or fitting shoes, and fewer had socks, and, as a consequence, the suffering from bruised and inflamed feet was terrible. It was a common practice, on long marches, for the men to take off their shoes and carry them in their hands or swung over the shoulder. Bloody footprints in the snow were not unknown to the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia!
When large bodies of troops were moving on the same road, the alternate "halt" and "forward" was very harassing. Every obstacle produced a halt, and caused the men at once to sit and lie down on the roadside where shade or grass tempted them; about the time they got fixed they would hear the word "forward!" and then have to move at increased speed to close up the gap in the column. Sitting down for a few minutes on a long march is pleasant, but it does not always pay; when the march is resumed the limbs are stiff and sore, and the man rather worsted by the halt.
About noon on a hot day, some fellow with the water instinct would determine in his own mind that a well was not far ahead, and start off in a trot to reach it before the column. Of course another and another followed, till a stream of men were hurrying to the well, which was soon completely surrounded by a thirsty mob, yelling and pushing and pulling to get to the bucket as the windlass brought it again and again to the surface. But their impatience and haste would soon overturn the windlass, and spatter the water all around the well till the whole crowd were wading in mud, the rope would break, and the bucket fall to the bottom. But there was a substitute for rope and bucket. The men would hasten away and get long, slim poles, and on them tie, by the straps a number of canteens, which they lowered into the well and filled; and unless, as was frequently the case, the whole lot slipped off and fell to the bottom, drew them to the top and distributed them to their owners, who at once threw their heads back, inserted the nozzles in their mouths and drank the last drop, hastening at once to rejoin the marching column, leaving behind them a dismantled and dry well. It was in vain that the officers tried to stop the stream of men making for the water, and equally vain to attempt to move the crowd while a drop remained accessible. Many, who were thoughtful, carried full canteens to comrades in the column, who had not been able to get to the well; and no one who has not had experience of it knows the thrill of gratification and delight which those fellows felt when the cool stream gurgled from the battered canteen down their parched throats.
In very hot weather, when the necessities of the service permitted, there was a halt about noon, of an hour or so, to rest the men and give them a chance to cool off and get the sand and gravel out of their shoes. This time was spent by some in absolute repose; but the lively boys told many a yarn, cracked many a joke, and sung many a song between "Halt" and "Column forward!" Some took the opportunity, if water was near, to bathe their feet, hands, and face, and nothing could be more enjoyable.
The passage of a cider cart (a barrel on wheels) was a rare and exciting occurrence. The rapidity with which a barrel of sweet cider was consumed would astonish any one who saw it for the first time, and generally the owner had cause to wonder at the small return in cash. Sometimes a desperately enterprising darkey would approach the column with a cartload of pies, "so-called." It would be impossible to describe accurately the taste or appearance of those pies. They were generally similar in appearance, size, and thickness to a pale specimen of "Old Virginia" buckwheat cakes, and had a taste which resembled a combination of rancid lard and crab apples. It was generally supposed that they contained dried apples, and the sellers were careful to state that they had "sugar in 'em" and were "mighty nice." It was rarely the case that any "trace" of sugar was found, but they filled up a hungry man wonderfully.
Men of sense, and there were many such in the ranks, were necessarily desirous of knowing where or how far they were to march, and suffered greatly from a feeling of helpless ignorance of where they were and whither bound—whether to battle or camp. Frequently, when anticipating the quiet and rest of an ideal camp, they were thrown, weary and exhausted, into the face of a waiting enemy, and at times, after anticipating a sharp fight, having formed line of battle and braced themselves for the coming danger, suffered all the apprehension and got themselves in good fighting trim, they were marched off in the driest and prosiest sort of style and ordered into camp, where, in all probability, they had to "wait for the wagon," and for the bread and meat therein, until the proverb, "Patient waiting is no loss," lost all its force and beauty.
Occasionally, when the column extended for a mile or more, and the road was one dense moving mass of men, a cheer would be heard away ahead,—increasing in volume as it approached, until there was one universal shout. Then some favorite general officer, dashing by, followed by his staff, would explain the cause. At other times, the same cheering and enthusiasm would result from the passage down the column of some obscure and despised officer, who knew it was all a joke, and looked mean and sheepish accordingly. But no man could produce more prolonged or hearty cheers than the "old hare" which jumped the fence and invited the column to a chase; and often it was said, when the rolling shout arose: "There goes old General Lee or a Molly Cotton Tail!"
The men would help each other when in real distress, but their delight was to torment any one who was unfortunate in a ridiculous way. If, for instance, a piece of artillery was fast in the mud, the infantry and cavalry passing around the obstruction would rack their brains for words and phrases applicable to the situation, and most calculated to worry the cannoniers, who, waist deep in the mud, were tugging at the wheels.
Brass bands, at first quite numerous and good, became very rare and their music very poor in the latter years of the war. It was a fine thing to see the fellows trying to keep the music going as they waded through the mud. But poor as the music was, it helped the footsore and weary to make another mile, and encouraged a cheer and a brisker step from the lagging and tired column.
As the men tired, there was less and less talking, until the whole mass became quiet and serious. Each man was occupied with his own thoughts. For miles nothing could be heard but the steady tramp of the men, the rattling and jingling of canteens and accoutrements, and the occasional "Close up, men,—close up!" of the officers.
The most refreshing incidents of the march occurred when the column entered some clean and cosy village where the people loved the troops. Matron and maid vied with each other in their efforts to express their devotion to the defenders of their cause. Remembering with tearful eyes the absent soldier brother or husband, they yet smiled through their tears, and with hearts and voices welcomed the coming of the road-stained troops. Their scanty larders poured out the last morsel, and their bravest words were spoken, as the column moved by. But who will tell the bitterness of the lot of the man who thus passed by his own sweet home, or the anguish of the mother as she renewed her farewell to her darling boy? Then it was that men and women learned to long for the country where partings are no more.
As evening came on, questioning of the officers was in order, and for an hour it would be, "Captain, when are we going into camp?" "I say, lieutenant, are we going to —— or to ——?" "Seen anything of our wagon?" "How long are we to stay here?" "Where's the spring?" Sometimes these questions were meant simply to tease, but generally they betrayed anxiety of some sort, and a close observer would easily detect the seriousness of the man who asked after "our wagon," because he spoke feelingly, as one who wanted his supper and was in doubt as to whether or not he would get it. People who live on country roads rarely know how far it is from anywhere to anywhere else. This is a distinguishing peculiarity of that class of people. If they do know, then they are a malicious crew. "Just over the hill there," "Just beyond those woods," "'Bout a mile," "Round the bend," and other such encouraging replies, mean anything from a mile to a day's march!
An accomplished straggler could assume more misery, look more horribly emaciated, tell more dismal stories of distress, eat more and march further (to the rear), than any ten ordinary men. Most stragglers were real sufferers, but many of them were ingenious liars, energetic foragers, plunder hunters and gormandizers. Thousands who kept their place in ranks to the very end were equally as tired, as sick, as hungry, and as hopeless, as these scamps, but too proud to tell it or use it as a means of escape from hardship. But many a poor fellow dropped in the road and breathed his last in the corner of a fence, with no one to hear his last fond mention of his loved ones. And many whose ambition it was to share every danger and discomfort with their comrades, overcome by the heat, or worn out with disease, were compelled to leave the ranks, and while friend and brother marched to battle, drag their weak and staggering frames to the rear, perhaps to die pitiably alone, in some hospital.
After all, the march had more pleasure than pain. Chosen friends walked and talked and smoked together; the hills and valleys made themselves a panorama for the feasting of the soldiers' eyes; a turnip patch here and an onion patch there invited him to occasional refreshment; and it was sweet to think that "camp" was near at hand, and rest, and the journey almost ended.
COOKING AND EATING.
Rations in the Army of Northern Virginia were alternately superabundant and altogether wanting. The quality, quantity, and frequency of them depended upon the amount of stores in the hands of the commissaries, the relative position of the troops and the wagon trains, and the many accidents and mishaps of the campaign. During the latter years and months of the war, so uncertain was the issue as to time, quantity, and composition, that the men became in large measure independent of this seeming absolute necessity, and by some mysterious means, known only to purely patriotic soldiers, learned to fight without pay and to find subsistence in the field, the stream, or the forest, and a shelter on the bleak mountain side.
Sometimes there was an abundant issue of bread, and no meat; then meat in any quantity, and no flour or meal; sugar in abundance, and no coffee to be had for "love or money;" and then coffee in plenty, without a grain of sugar; for months nothing but flour for bread, and then nothing but meal (till all hands longed for a biscuit); or fresh meat until it was nauseating, and then salt-pork without intermission.
To be one day without anything to eat was common. Two days' fasting, marching and fighting was not uncommon, and there were times when no rations were issued for three or four days. On one march, from Petersburg to Appomattox, no rations were issued to Cutshaw's battalion of artillery for one entire week, and the men subsisted on the corn intended for the battery horses, raw bacon captured from the enemy, and the water of springs, creeks, and rivers.
A soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia was fortunate when he had his flour, meat, sugar, and coffee all at the same time and in proper quantity. Having these, the most skillful axeman of the mess hewed down a fine hickory or oak, and cut it into "lengths." All hands helped to "tote" it to the fire. When wood was convenient, the fire was large, the red coals abundant, and the meal soon prepared.
The man most gifted in the use of the skillet was the one most highly appreciated about the fire, and as tyrannical as a Turk; but when he raised the lid of the oven and exposed the brown-crusted tops of the biscuit, animosity subsided. The frying-pan, full of "grease," then became the centre of attraction. As the hollow-cheeked boy "sopped" his biscuit, his poor, pinched countenance wrinkled into a smile, and his sunken eyes glistened with delight. And the coffee, too,—how delicious the aroma of it, and how readily each man disposed of a quart! The strong men gathered round, chuckling at their good luck, and "cooing" like a child with a big piece of cake. Ah, this was a sight which but few of those who live and die are permitted to see!
And now the last biscuit is gone, the last drop of coffee, and the frying-pan is "wiped" clean. The tobacco-bag is pulled wide open, pipes are scraped, knocked out, and filled, the red coal is applied, and the blue smoke rises in wreaths and curls from the mouths of the no longer hungry, but happy and contented soldiers. Songs rise on the still night air, the merry laugh resounds, the woods are bright with the rising flame of the fire, story after story is told, song after song is sung, and at midnight the soldiers steal away one by one to their blankets on the ground, and sleep till reveille. Such was a meal when the mess was fortunate.
How different when the wagons have not been heard from for forty-eight hours. Now the question is, how to do the largest amount of good to the largest number with the smallest amount of material? The most experienced men discuss the situation and decide that "somebody" must go foraging. Though the stock on hand is small, no one seems anxious to leave the small certainty and go in search of the large uncertainty of supper from some farmer's well-filled table; but at last several comrades start out, and as they disappear the preparations for immediate consumption commence. The meat is too little to cook alone, and the flour will scarcely make six biscuits. The result is that "slosh" or "coosh" must do. So the bacon is fried out till the pan is half full of boiling grease. The flour is mixed with water until it flows like milk, poured into the grease and rapidly stirred till the whole is a dirty brown mixture. It is now ready to be served. Perhaps some dainty fellow prefers the more imposing "slapjack." If so, the flour is mixed with less water, the grease reduced, and the paste poured in till it covers the bottom of the pan, and, when brown on the underside, is, by a nimble twist of the pan, turned and browned again. If there is any sugar in camp it makes a delicious addition.
About the time the last scrap of "slapjack" and the last spoonful of "slosh" are disposed of, the unhappy foragers return. They take in the situation at a glance, realize with painful distinctness that they have sacrificed the homely slosh for the vain expectancy of apple butter, shortcake, and milk, and, with woeful countenance and mournful voice, narrate their adventure and disappointment thus: "Well, boys, we have done the best we could. We have walked about nine miles over the mountain, and haven't found a mouthful to eat. Sorry, but it's a fact. Give us our biscuits." Of course there are none, and, as it is not contrary to army etiquette to do so, the whole mess professes to be very sorry. Sometimes, however, the foragers returned well laden with good things, and as good comrades should, shared the fruits of their toilsome hunt with their comrades.
Foragers thought it not indelicate to linger about the house of the unsuspecting farmer till the lamp revealed the family at supper, and then modestly approach and knock at the door. As the good-hearted man knew that his guests were "posted" about the meal in progress in the next room, the invitation to supper was given, and, shall I say it, accepted with an unbecoming lack of reluctance.
The following illustrates the ingenuity of the average forager. There was great scarcity of meat, and no prospect of a supply from the wagons. Two experienced foragers were sent out, and as a farmer about ten miles from the camp was killing hogs, guided by soldier instinct, they went directly to his house, and found the meat nicely cut up, the various pieces of each hog making a separate pile on the floor of an outhouse. The proposition to buy met with a surprisingly ready response on the part of the farmer. He offered one entire pile of meat, being one whole hog, for such a small sum that the foragers instantly closed the bargain, and as promptly opened their eyes to the danger which menaced them. They gave the old gentleman a ten-dollar bill and requested change. Pleased with their honest method he hastened away to his house to obtain it. The two honest foragers hastily examined the particular pile of pork which the simple-hearted farmer designated as theirs, found it very rank and totally unfit for food, transferred half of it to another pile, from which they took half and added to theirs, and awaited the return of the farmer. On giving them their change, he assured them that they had a bargain. They agreed that they had, tossed good and bad together in a bag, said good-by, and departed as rapidly as artillerymen on foot can. The result of the trip was a "pot-pie" of large dimensions; and some six or eight men gorged with fat pork declared that they had never cared for and would not again wish to eat pork,—especially pork-pies.
A large proportion of the eating of the army was done in the houses and at the tables of the people, not by the use of force, but by the wish and invitation of the people. It was at times necessary that whole towns should help to sustain the army of defense, and when this was the case, it was done voluntarily and cheerfully. The soldiers—all who conducted themselves properly—were received as honored guests and given the best in the house. There was a wonderful absence of stealing or plundering, and even when the people suffered from depredation they attributed the cause to terrible necessity rather than to wanton disregard of the rights of property. And when armed guards were placed over the smoke-houses and barns, it was not so much because the commanding general doubted the honesty as that he knew the necessities of his troops. But even pinching hunger was not held to be an excuse for marauding expeditions.
The inability of the government to furnish supplies forced the men to depend largely upon their own energy and ingenuity to obtain them. The officers, knowing this, relaxed discipline to an extent which would seem, to a European officer, for instance, ruinous. It was no uncommon sight to see a brigade or division, which was but a moment before marching in solid column along the road, scattered over an immense field searching for the luscious blackberries. And it was wonderful to see how promptly and cheerfully all returned to the ranks when the field was gleaned. In the fall of the year a persimmon tree on the roadside would halt a column and detain it till the last persimmon disappeared.
The sutler's wagon, loaded with luxuries, which was so common in the Federal army, was unknown in the Army of Northern Virginia, for two reasons: the men had no money to buy sutlers' stores, and the country no men to spare for sutlers. The nearest approach to the sutler's wagon was the "cider cart" of some old darkey, or a basket of pies and cakes displayed on the roadside for sale.
The Confederate soldier relied greatly upon the abundant supplies of eatables which the enemy was kind enough to bring him, and he cheerfully risked his life for the accomplishment of the twofold purpose of whipping the enemy and getting what he called "a square meal." After a battle there was general feasting on the Confederate side. Good things, scarcely ever seen at other times, filled the haversacks and the stomachs of the "Boys in Gray." Imagine the feelings of men half famished when they rush into a camp at one side, while the enemy flees from the other, and find the coffee on the fire, sugar at hand ready to be dropped into the coffee, bread in the oven, crackers by the box, fine beef ready cooked, desiccated vegetables by the bushel, canned peaches, lobsters, tomatoes, milk, barrels of ground and roasted coffee, soda, salt, and in short everything a hungry soldier craves. Then add the liquors, wines, cigars, and tobacco found in the tents of the officers and the wagons of the sutlers, and, remembering the condition of the victorious party, hungry, thirsty, and weary, say if it did not require wonderful devotion to duty, and great self-denial to push on, trampling under foot the plunder of the camp, and pursue the enemy till the sun went down.
When it was allowable to halt, what a glorious time it was! Men, who a moment before would have been delighted with a pone of cornbread and a piece of fat meat, discuss the comparative merits of peaches and milk and fresh tomatoes, lobster and roast beef, and, forgetting the briar-root pipe, faithful companion of the vicissitudes of the soldier's life, snuff the aroma of imported Havanas.
In sharp contrast with the mess-cooking at the big fire was the serious and diligent work of the man separated from his comrades, out of reach of the woods, but bent on cooking and eating. He has found a coal of fire, and having placed over it, in an ingenious manner, the few leaves and twigs near his post, he fans the little pile with his hat. It soon blazes. Fearing the utter consumption of his fuel, he hastens to balance on the little fire his tin cup of water. When it boils, from some secure place in his clothes he takes a little coffee and drops it in the cup, and almost instantly the cup is removed and set aside; then a slice of fat meat is laid on the coals, and when brown and crisp, completes the meal—for the "crackers," or biscuit, are ready. No one but a soldier would have undertaken to cook with such a fire, as frequently it was no bigger than a quart cup.
Crackers, or "hard tack" as they were called, are notoriously poor eating, but in the hands of the Confederate soldier were made to do good duty. When on the march and pressed for time, a piece of solid fat pork and a dry cracker was passable or luscious, as the time was long or short since the last meal. When there was leisure to do it, hardtack was soaked well and then fried in bacon grease. Prepared thus, it was a dish which no Confederate had the weakness or the strength to refuse.
Sorghum, in the absence of the better molasses of peace times, was greatly prized and eagerly sought after. A "Union" man living near the Confederate lines was one day busy boiling his crop. Naturally enough, some of "our boys" smelt out the place and determined to have some of the sweet fluid. They had found a yearling dead in the field hard by, and in thinking over the matter determined to sell the Union man if possible. So they cut from the dead animal a choice piece of beef, carried it to the old fellow and offered to trade. He accepted the offer, and the whole party walked off with canteens full.
Artillerymen, having tender consciences and no muskets, seldom, if ever, shot stray pigs; but they did sometimes, as an act of friendship, wholly disinterested, point out to the infantry a pig which seemed to need shooting, and by way of dividing the danger and responsibility of the act, accept privately a choice part of the deceased.
On one occasion, when a civilian was dining with the mess, there was a fine pig for dinner. This circumstance caused the civilian to remark on the good fare. The "forager" replied that pig was an uncommon dish, this one having been kicked by one of the battery horses while stealing corn, and instantly killed. The civilian seemed to doubt the statement after his teeth had come down hard on a pistol bullet, and continued to doubt, though assured that it was the head of a horse-shoe nail.
The most melancholy eating a soldier was ever forced to do, was, when pinched with hunger, cold, wet, and dejected, he wandered over the deserted field of battle and satisfied his cravings with the contents of the haversacks of the dead. If there is anything which will overcome the natural abhorrence which a man feels for the enemy, the loathing of the bloated dead, and the awe engendered by the presence of death, solitude, and silence, it is hunger. Impelled by its clamoring, men of high principle and tenderest humanity become for the time void of sensibility, and condescend to acts which, though justified by their extremity, seem afterwards, even to the doers, too shameless to mention.
When rations became so very small that it was absolutely necessary to supplement them, and the camp was permanently established, those men who had the physical ability worked for the neighborhood farmers at cutting cord-wood, harvesting the crops, killing hogs, or any other farm-work. A stout man would cut a cord of wood a day and receive fifty cents in money, or its equivalent in something eatable. Hogs were slaughtered for the "fifth quarter." When the corn became large enough to eat, the roasting ears, thrown in the ashes with the shucks on, and nicely roasted, made a grateful meal. Turnip and onion patches also furnished delightful and much-needed food, good raw or cooked.
Occasionally, when a mess was hard pushed for eatables, it became necessary to resort to some ingenious method of disgusting a part of the mess, that the others might eat their fill. The "pepper treatment" was a common method practiced with the soup, which once failed. A shrewd fellow, who loved things "hot," decided to have plenty of soup, and to accomplish his purpose, as he passed and repassed the boiling pot, dropped in a pod of red pepper. But, alas! for him, there was another man like minded who adopted the same plan, and the result was that all the mess waited in vain for that pot of soup to cool.
The individual coffee-boiler of one man in the Army of Northern Virginia was always kept at the boiling point. The owner of it was an enigma to his comrades. They could not understand his strange fondness for "red-hot" coffee. Since the war he has explained that he found the heat of the coffee prevented its use by others, and adopted the plan of placing his cup on the fire after every sip. This same character never troubled himself to carry a canteen, though a great water drinker. When he found a good canteen he would kindly give it to a comrade, reserving the privilege of an occasional drink when in need. He soon had an interest in thirty or forty canteens and their contents, and could always get a drink of water if it was to be found in any of them. He pursued the same plan with blankets, and always had plenty in that line. His entire outfit was the clothes on his back and a haversack accurately shaped to hold one half pone of corn bread.